Parading While Black

After the arrest of a City Councilman, isn't it time to question the NYPD's crooked math?

The police encounter with Williams and Foy as the two men tried to make their way from the parade crown into a reception at the Brooklyn museum was captured in part on a video. At one point, Foy is forced backward by an officer moving into his space. When the officer makes contact with the backpedaling Foy, he takes out the political staffer's legs to bring him down and then cuffs him. It's not brutality, but it's rough. Another uniformed officer, shooing off the understandably upset crowd, calls out: "For everybody's safety, please walk out."

"I don't know what else we need to show that this culture of the police based on their practices like stop and frisk are allowing police officers to believe they can treat black and Latino men any way they want," Williams said Saturday at a National Action Network rally. The officers, he said, "refused to see the badge, the pin, the ribbon, or the wristband" that clearly identified him as an elected official. "They saw black, locks and earrings. That was all."

John MacConnell

While Police Department spokesman Paul Brown told reporters that the men were detained, not arrested, because "an unknown individual punched a police captain on the scene," Williams, speaking with the Voice, flatly called that account a "lie," noting that nothing further has been heard about the "ghost puncher." Both men were cuffed, which is usually the point of no return in an encounter with the police becoming an arrest.

Pressed on the connection between his arrest at the parade and the department's stop-and-frisk policy, Williams, who is co-chairing a Council committee on youth-related gun violence, was emphatic in rejecting what he said was a false choice between more stops or more crime.

That's our plan: To connect this incident to some policy change because for some reason the leadership in this city is having a tough time believing us when we keep saying that the police practices are unfairly affecting black and Latino youth in this city. Now you have persons like myself and [Foy] who are well-educated, professional people, a city elected official and a high-ranking aide to a top elected official, maybe we've both had this experience before, and now that we have this attention that maybe somebody else wouldn't get, we can't let this experience go to waste. What else do you need to start believing there's a problem?

Asked about stop-and-frisk, and whether it's time for the crime numbers to go up, Jesus Gonzalez, the 26-year-old Bushwick community organizer who will find out when the polls close tonight if he is newest and youngest member of the state Assembly, nodded and said: "I wouldn't go so far as to say that Ray Kelly just wants to arrest people. But I think it's a simplistic approach to dealing with crime."

Gonzalez stressed the need to keep guns off the street, saying "officers are part of our community too and they deserve to work in a dignified place that doesn't have unofficial quotas that put them in a bad position where they have to stop and frisk folks and give them summons for no reason."

While the numbers vary year-to-year, a little more than one of ten stops results in New York results in an arrest or even a summons. So, as the crime rate has held steady at a low level in recent years while the number of stops has shot up, does that constitute progress? If the only measure that matters is the crime numbers, yes it does.

But that math gives no value to the cost in humiliated civilians, most of them young black and Latino men, who are more likely to be stopped, even correcting for crime rates, neighborhood demographics and the like, more likely to be arrested rather than issued a summons, and more likely to have force used against them.

Past the humiliation, criminal records for relatively minor infractions, like marijuana, can impact custody rights, public housing rights, and job prospects. Immigrants face deportation.

While personal possession was effectively decriminalized in New York in 1977, the NYPD has simply made its own law since 1997, as a record 50,000-plus arrests for low-level pot crimes in 2010 made it the number one cause of arrest last year. In practice, the 1977 law never got around to young black and Latino men, and the District Attorneys who receive these cases from the police have, for the most part, done little to push the police to stop making these bad arrests. And despite using the drug at a slightly lower clip than non-Hispanic whites, Black and Latinos who are stopped are considerably more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. With cops ordered to make stops to hit their monthly numbers, rather than in response to suspicions of illegal activities. marijuana arrests are a relatively easy way of getting there.

Guns, on the other hand, are a rare find, in part because of the success of New York's aggressive policing. Despite finding a firearm in barely one stop out of every thousand, officers who want to make it home at the end of the shift understandably treat the men they accost as potential dangers. Many of the men understandably come to see the police in a similar light.

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