By Kristen Gwynne
July 27, 2012 “AlterNet” — For young men of color in New York City’s most policed precincts, getting stop-and-frisked is a part of life. Many white people who have never been stop-and-frisked, or even seen one, consider the 700,000 annual stops of almost only Black and Latino youths a crime-fighting tool. Today, an opportunity to see what stop-and-frisk really looks like:
Did you see a bulge in his pants before the NYPD officer put his hands all over him, body slamming him against the wall? By law, to conduct a frisk — a light pat-down over the clothes — police must observe a bulge they believe to be a weapon. The officer also appears to reach down into his suspect’s pockets, a search that is only legal if the frisk uncovers what the cop at least thinks is a weapon.
The Constitutional apathy begins before the illegal serches, however, with the initial stop. The NYPD can only stop someone they have reasonable suspicion to believe is engaging in criminal activity. Unfortunately, the law is so vague suspicion can include “furtive movements,” which apparently Black and Laitno people make a lot of.
While the lawlessness of stop-and-frisk is believed to be widespread, proving an unjust stop or search can be nearly impossible. An article in The New York Times about the young man in the video above, 19-year-old Sean Pagan, reveals the difficulty behind proving police misbehavior without a camera:
[Sean] Pagan said he did not know why he had been stopped in the first place, but a police spokesman said Mr. Pagan had entered the subway station without paying, then refused to show the officer his identification and resisted arrest. He was charged with theft of services and resisting arrest. According to the police, Mr. Pagan had been arrested nine times prior to last Thursday and once since then, for offenses including criminal mischief, creating graffiti, intent to damage property, telephone harassment and criminal contempt.
Mr. Pagan, who is Hispanic, said the officers at the precinct house where he was taken joked and laughed about his body-slamming.
Without the video, he said, he would not have known how to draw attention to his arrest. Even his mother did not believe his story until she saw the video, he said.
“It would’ve been his word over mine,” he said. “He would’ve said I was resisting and going crazy. It would’ve been brushed under the rug.”
So, how many more are like Pagan? Every year, the NYPD stops more than half-a-million people, about half of them who are frisked. Nearly 90% of them are Black or Latino, the vast majority are young, and almost all of them are found of innocent of any crime.
US policing: Institutionalising Brutality?
In the wake of the killing of an unarmed man in California, we ask if US policing is becoming increasingly militarised.
Extreme police tactics are not a new phenomenon in the US. But in the age of social media, police violence, such as the shooting of unarmed people and the use of pepper spray and taser guns, are being documented for the world to see.
Occupy protesters throughout the country felt the full force of police tactics – many were subject to violent arrest.
Perhaps the most controversial example was at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) where peaceful protesters were pepper sprayed last November.
It is more than 20 years since a recording of police violence sparked riots in Los Angeles. The beating of Rodney King was caught on video and the footage shocked the world.
But two decades later how much has changed?
On Saturday, police in the Californian city of Anaheim shot and killed Manuel Diaz, an unarmed man who they said was running from them, hitting him in the leg and the back of the head.
Police said he and another young man shot dead the following day were both gang members. But local residents say the Latino men were victims of racial profiling and an overly aggressive police force.
The community reacted furiously and on Tuesday night, when protesters attempted to attend a city council meeting, they were barred from entering city hall by police who said the meeting room was full.
The protesters reacted by throwing rocks and bottles at the police and setting fire to bins. Hundreds of police in riot gear responded by firing non-lethal rounds at the crowd. At least six people were injured and police made two dozen arrests.
The clashes between protesters and police have now gone on for several days and nights. In one incident, police fired rubber bullets at near point blank range and police dogs attacked protesters. Mobile phone footage of the incident went viral, attracting nationwide attention.
Anaheim’s mayor says federal officials have agreed to investigate the shootings. But the city, where there have been six fatal police shootings this year, is now being compared to a powder keg.
So is policing in the US becoming increasingly militarised?
To discuss this, Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, is joined by guests: Jumana Musa, a human rights lawyer who is deputy director of the Rights Working Group; Gustavo Arellano, the editor of the OC Weekly, a newspaper that has been covering the shootings; and Raymond Lewis, a retired Philadelphia police captain who was arrested by New York police while taking part in the Occupy Wall Street protests last year.
“I’ve lived in this community my whole life and it’s sad when you have to be scared for your kids to go outside.” – Louisa Sanchez, a protester