On Thursday morning around 10 a.m., police stopped carpenter Yusef Mason, 36, and searched him on Thursday as he waited for a bus to get to work. It wasn’t the first time the 36-year-old carpenter, who lives on Dumon Street and Rockaway Avenue, has been stopped and frisked. He says he gets stopped two or three times a day, on average.
The usual conversation between him and the policeman goes like this, he says: “Where are you going?,” the police ask. “It doesn’t matter. I’m free,” he responds.
“Do you have your ID on you?” The policeman continues. “Yes,” he answers. “Do you mind if we search you?” the cop adds.
“Yeah, I mind,” he told The Brooklyn Ink, shortly after he was searched. “But you can’t refuse it.”
Earlier this week a New York City Police Department report confirmed something many Brooklinites already know: the police department’s stop and frisk policy is alive and well in Brooklyn. According to the report, more people, most of them minorities, were stopped in two Brooklyn precincts, covering East New York, Brownsville and Crown Heights — than anywhere else in the city last year.
Instead of successfully justifying its “stop-and-frisk” action, the report, 2011 Reasonable Suspicion Stops, broke down the incidents by city precinct and race—making the controversial issue of racial profiling more intense, especially in Brooklyn, where the largest number of people seems to have been targeted.
“It’s not illegal. It’s just wrong. They are not here just in case something happens; they are here to make a case. They are rough, disrespectful. They do things to push you,” Mason said. “These are the tactics they use, but also are things that people have to deal with in everyday life.”
A total number of 685,724 people, about 8.6 percent of the city’s population, were detained by the NYPD for “reasonable suspicion” in 2011, according to the report. The top two precincts with the most stops by sheer numbers, the 75th precinct and 73th precinct, were both in Brooklyn, and more than 95 percent of the stops involved minorities.
Brownsville, where Mason has lived his whole life is located in the 73th precinct. Here, 25,167 people were stopped and checked last year, the report found. And about 98 percent of them were minorities.
Kevin Reeves, 42, who is currently unemployed because of disability, lives on the corner of Chestnut Street and Fulton Street in Cypress Hills, the densest populated neighborhood in the 75th precinct, the highest-ranking precinct in the report. Here, more than 31,000 people were stopped, with 97 percent minorities.
“They particularly pick people that they think will be the potential problem,” he said. “I’m 6’1’’ and 280 pounds. If I walk through one block to the next block at 2 a.m. in the morning, they would stop me. By the way I’m dressed, they tend to automatically assume I’m a criminal,” he pointed at his large hoody and loose jeans.
Tom Ruusch, a local policeman who was on his 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift, said that one to 13 NYPD cars patrol this neighborhood every day. He refused to comment on the “stop and frisk” policy.
Some residents appreciated the presence of police, but are still skeptical about the fairness of the “stop and frisk” policy.
“The police are here more in the afternoon and evening. We need more of them and they should be here longer,” said Madeline Rivera, a 53-year-old school bus attendant who lives on the same street as Mason. “They should pay attention what’s going on here, but not to who is wearing what.”
Mason and others who have been stopped thinks it’s more than who is wearing what or what neighborhood you live in, but a matter of racial profiling, plain and simple.
“We’re constantly accused, unfairly, of racism, like we’re looking only to stop minorities. That is not true. Are there more stops in [East New York] than in Riverdale? Yes. Why? Because there is more crime there and because we put more resources into that precinct,” Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, the NYPD’s top spokesman, told the New York Daily News after the report was released.
“It doesn’t really matter where you are,” said Mason. “It’s a target issue. If you go by the statistics of any other neighborhood, the people that have been stopped would still be the minorities.”
It’s not just an arbitrary argument. The statistics in that report show that nearly 90 percent of those targeted by NYPD stop-and-frisks were either black or Hispanic. However, these two groups together make up less than 53 percent of the city’s total population, which makes it fair to conclude that even in areas that don’t have a major population of minorities, they are still the main targets.
According to the report, the No. 1 reason for stop-and-frisks that year was possible weapons possession, accounting for more than 25 percent of all stops.
“If it’s cold, I put on [my] hood. If it’s cold, you put your hands in your pocket. That doesn’t mean I’m carrying a concealed weapon, or hiding from someone,” Mason said.
As Reeves put it: “I will feel offended if you stop and frisk me, because you label me as a convict. You violate my constitutional rights.”
This method of “stop and frisk” has come under intense scrutiny and legal challenges these years. As a response to the massive criticism from social organizations like the New York Civil Liberties Union, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said in 2012 that it is “for increasing public confidence”.
Does stop and frisk stop crime? Many who have been stopped and searched don’t think so. “It’s just harassing people. There is still crime going on,” Mason said. And Reeves added: “Those policemen should be worrying about bigger things that are going on, the accidents, kids that get hurt, and people who commit crimes.”
They may have a point. Statistics from NYPD show that in 2011, the 75th Precinct had the most murders, 27, and the most robberies, 780, of any other precinct in the city, despite the fact that these numbers were drastically lower than 20 years ago.
A further request for comment has been sent to the Office of the Deputy Commissioner and Public Information.