Nicholas K. Peart is a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College
He has been stopped and frisked by New York City police officers at least five times
When I was 14, my mother told me not to panic if a police officer stopped me. And she cautioned me to carry ID and never run away from the police or I could be shot. In the nine years since my mother gave me this advice, I have had numerous occasions to consider her wisdom.
One evening in August of 2006, I was celebrating my 18th birthday with my cousin and a friend. We were staying at my sister’s house on 96th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan and decided to walk to a nearby place and get some burgers. It was closed so we sat on benches in the median strip that runs down the middle of Broadway. We were talking, watching the night go by, enjoying the evening when suddenly, and out of nowhere, squad cars surrounded us. A policeman yelled from the window, “Get on the ground!”
I was stunned. And I was scared. Then I was on the ground — with a gun pointed at me. I couldn’t see what was happening but I could feel a policeman’s hand reach into my pocket and remove my wallet. Apparently he looked through and found the ID I kept there. “Happy Birthday,” he said sarcastically. The officers questioned my cousin and friend, asked what they were doing in town, and then said goodnight and left us on the sidewalk…
RTFA. Learn something about life outside your neighborhood, your community – unless, like Nicholas Pearl, you are non-white in a white-ruled American city.
Incident follows incident as night follows day in America. Though I grew up in the white end of a New England factory town, I walked away from that world before the civil rights movement became a political phenomenon in the late 1950’s. Excepting time spent in the plant where I worked, I mostly lived, mostly spent my waking creative hours as musician and poet, singer and essayist, part-time student and full-time hipster [in Norman Mailer’s terms] on Black streets, in Black bars, in a Black American Legion club, immersed in the lives of my brothers and sisters in song and spirit.
Ain’t nothing much changed. The big stuff, the official crap, the “legal” crimes against Americans are gone. Daily practices ain’t especially changed. And what happened to Borinquen brothers in Bridgeport happened to Chicano brothers on Chicago’s near North Side – and still does in whatever side of whichever town folks are relegated to by skin color and accent.
Here are a few other facts: last year, the N.Y.P.D. recorded more than 600,000 stops; 84 percent of those stopped were blacks or Latinos. Police are far more likely to use force when stopping blacks or Latinos than whites. In half the stops police cite the vague “furtive movements” as the reason for the stop. Maybe black and brown people just look more furtive, whatever that means. These stops are part of a larger, more widespread problem — a racially discriminatory system of stop-and-frisk in the N.Y.P.D. The police use the excuse that they’re fighting crime to continue the practice, but no one has ever actually proved that it reduces crime or makes the city safer. Those of us who live in the neighborhoods where stop-and-frisks are a basic fact of daily life don’t feel safer as a result…
…I’m doing what I can to help change things and am acting as a witness in a lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights to stop the police from racially profiling and harassing black and brown people in New York.
Keep on rockin’ in the Free World.