I often wonder if I have what it takes to raise my black son in New York City.
While concerns about navigating public school application processes and scheduling play dates are common topics among parents, what often goes unspoken is something far more important: the unique challenges that come with parenting a young boy of color in New York City.
With nothing promised for young blacks and Latinos other than low expectations, street violence, negative peer influences and persistent police suspicion, how do we make sure that that our sons grow up safe and thriving? One step is putting an end to stop-and-frisk.
The New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy and all of its implications on crime and race are now at the forefront of political and social conversation.
With a decision pending in Floyd v. New York City, a high profile federal case challenging these practices, along with relentless community activism and a hotly contested mayoral campaign, now is the time to push for leadership that acknowledges the crisis in policing and proposes criminal justice policies and social reforms that will actually keep our young people safe without criminalizing them.
In a recent mayoral debate, Bill Thompson, the only candidate to address this issue from the perspective of parenting a black son, said “I’m the one who has to worry about my son getting shot on the streets of New York … And at the same point, I don't have to sacrifice his constitutional rights to make sure he is safe … I can have them both."
As a parent, I worry about my son’s safety. As a lawyer, I worry about his rights. Stop-and-frisk promotes neither.
In this climate of heated discussion, the mayoral candidates must acknowledge that stop-and-frisk has proven so damaging and polarizing a practice that it has become New York City’s civil rights issue of the day. Those vying for New York City’s top office must articulate proposals for credible alternatives to stop-and-frisk policing that go beyond weak promises to train police in cultural sensitivity and professionalism.
New York’s next mayor can learn from the successes of other cities that have developed anti-gang initiatives, gun control programs and community collaborations.
Ironically, proponents of stop-and-frisk often cite parental desire for increased youth safety as one of the most compelling reasons for continuing this policy. Like all mothers and fathers, parents of young men of color want their children safe from drugs, violence, and many of the other harmful influences of New York City’s streets.
Yet, draping stop-and-frisk in emotional appeals to safety overshadows its damaging reality. Moreover, those arguments overlook evidence showing that the decline in serious crime in New York City cannot be directly attributed to stop-and-frisk.
While violent crimes fell 29 percent in New York City from 2001 to 2010, other large cities that do not rely on an aggressive stop-and-frisk policy — such as Los Angeles, Baltimore and New Orleans — experienced larger declines in violent crime. In terms of illegal gun recovery, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union, from 2003 to 2012, the NYPD increased stops by 372,060, but recovered only 96 more guns, amounting to an additional recovery rate of 0.02 percent.
In fact, in 2011, the NYPD recovered illegal guns four times more often through methods not involving street stops.
Young black and Latino men are indisputably the targets of stop-and-frisk. Male youth of color between the ages of 14 and 24 comprise less than 5 percent of this city’s population, yet they accounted for 41 percent of stops in 2012.
Appallingly, more than 90 percent of black and Latino youth stopped by the police were innocent of any wrongdoing.
These unwarranted stops are not without consequence.
Most critiques of stop-and-frisk focus on damaged police-community relationships and the fraying of youths’ willingness to assist police investigations. While these are significant costs, parents should also consider the emerging evidence of the emotional and psychological harm caused by these often disrespectful, humiliating, and threatening interactions.
Nicholas Peart, a young black man named as one of the plaintiffs in the Floyd suit, gave a first person account of the toll of being stopped and frisked: “Essentially, I incorporated into my daily life the sense that I might find myself up against a wall or on the ground with an officer’s gun at my head. For a black man in his 20s like me, it’s just a fact of life in New York.”
There are many facts of life that I am prepared to teach my young son. This should not be one of them.
Nicole Smith Futrell is a clinical law professor in the Criminal Defense Clinic of Main Street Legal Services at the City University of New York School of Law.
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