(The Root) — New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a black congregation in Brooklyn last weekend that stop and frisk, the controversial police strategy of questioning and searching passersby, "saves lives." Critics beg to differ, arguing that stop and frisk is a violation of civil rights and a thinly veiled version of racial profiling that overwhelmingly affects black and Latino males.
As high-profile opponents of the practice — including NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous and the Rev. Al Sharpton — prepare for a silent march in the city on Sunday to protest, The Root surveyed 148 readers ages 18 and older about their perceptions of police and racial profiling and what to do if stopped and frisked. The sample is too small for the results to be considered scientifically valid, but the results are illuminating nonetheless.
Most striking was how perceptions of police officers and their motives differed between black and white respondents. Nearly 28 percent of whites professed a positive view of police, 22 percent had a negative view and 50 percent were neutral. And while the majority of whites surveyed agreed that stop-and-frisk policies were a pretext for racial profiling, they were far more likely to disagree with that statement than blacks — 30 percent vs. 3 percent.
When it came to identifying the factors that might affect a person's likelihood of being stopped and frisked, race was the most popular answer across the board, but blacks were more likely to choose gender as a factor than whites were, while whites were more likely to choose clothing as a factor.
Not surprisingly, there was a gender gap in response to questions about being racially profiled. Eighty-seven percent of black males said that they had been unfairly targeted by law enforcement because of their race, compared with 55 percent of black females. The black male-black female divide was also present when it came to how many times they'd been racially profiled by police. The most popular answer among black men — 38 percent — was five or more; 11 percent of them said zero. The largest number of black women — 42 percent — said zero, while 7 percent of them said five or more.
Their differing experiences with police, however, didn't lead to a rift between black men and black women in their perceptions of law enforcement or stop-and-frisk policies. Ninety-six percent of black men felt that stop and frisk is a pretext for racial profiling, and 98 percent of black women agreed.
The two groups also agreed on their feelings about police, with 49 percent of black men saying that they had a negative view of police, and 46.5 percent of black women saying the same. Along the same lines, 14.5 percent of black men had a positive view of police, while 11.6 percent of black women did.
One common factor regardless of race or gender was parental advice. Nearly 50 percent of all respondents said that their parents had given them instructions on what to do if stopped by police. The most popular tip was to stay calm, cooperate and keep your hands visible.
"They can get me out of jail," one black male respondent wrote of his parents, "but not out of a casket."
Lauren Williams is The Root's deputy editor. Follow her on Twitter.
Lauren is a former Deputy Editor of The Root.