One Young Man's Experience With Racial Profiling

Nicholas Pert is about to graduate from the Borough of Manhattan Community College. He's also been stopped, frisked and searched more than five time. He relates his account in a New York Times Op-Ed today. He's also going to be a witness for the Center of Constitutional Rights in its lawsuit seeking to prevent the NYPD from making racially motivated stops.

For young people in my neighborhood, getting stopped and frisked is a rite of passage. We expect the police to jump us at any moment. We know the rules: don’t run and don’t try to explain, because speaking up for yourself might get you arrested or worse. And we all feel the same way — degraded, harassed, violated and criminalized because we’re black or Latino. Have I been stopped more than the average young black person? I don’t know, but I look like a zillion other people on the street. And we’re all just trying to live our lives.

As to why he decided to testify: [More...]

I have talked to dozens of young people who have had experiences like mine. And I know firsthand how much it messes with you. Because of them, I’m doing what I can to help change things.

Nicholas recounts the advice his mother gave him at 14:

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.

I also began instructing my son at age 14 as to how to react when stopped by a cop. My intent was that he know never to consent to a search, even if he had nothing to hide. (It doesn't stop cops from planting evidence and you never know what your passengers might have on them or have left behind in the car you're riding in.) I told him, if a cop ever asks him to waive his rights and make a statement or agree to a search of his person or car, he should say, very politely, "I'm sorry, sir, but I only waive the flag." And then he should ask, "Am I free to leave?" I told him that the cop would probably beat the sh*t out of him for being a smart-as*, and take him directly to jail, but at least he'd know he stood up for himself and his rights.

Like Nicholas Pert didn't forget his mother's advice, my son never forgot mine. He included it on his essay to get into college as one of the most defining moments of his life (along with working on the Timothy McVeigh defense team.) And when he first became a criminal defense lawyer, the name of his website was WaiveTheFlag. (It's now called something more appropriate, but it's still a cool website.)

The point being, unlike Nicholas Pert's mother, I didn't have to worry about my son being stopped because of the way he looked. I was concerned that if my son was stopped, the cop could probably gin up reasonable suspicion of something, and I didn't want that reasonable suspicion to be elevated to probable cause for an arrest, based on my son's agreement to forego his right to remain silent and refuse a search.

Unlike Nicholas Pert, my son didn't have to change his activities and worry on a daily basis.

I dress better if I go downtown. I don’t hang out with friends outside my neighborhood in Harlem as much as I used to. 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.

I can't imagine many things worse for a teenager than being thrown in jail. It's not something you forget about the next day. It fosters a fear and distrust of authority that can last a lifetime. It messes with your self-esteem. It's so unnecessary.

But for young men of color -- black, brown, and Latino -- in New York City, it's a fact of life:

Last year, 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.

....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.

It should be beyond the pale for a police officer to initiate an investigative stop of anyone because of the color his skin. The system needs to change. NYPD officers should be required to undergo rigorous training about what's acceptable and what's unconstitutional, before being handed a gun and told the hit the streets. If, as has been brought out in other recent New York lawsuits, these NYPD officers have arrest quotas, it's even worse.

Please express your support for the Center for Constitutional Rights lawsuit, and say thanks to people like Nicholas Pert, who are willing to come forward and testify, sharing these humiliating experiences in public. By getting many of these personal stories before the Court, judges will be forced to realize how bad it really is out there, and do something about it.

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  • Display: Sort:
    thank you, Jeralyn (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by The Addams Family on Sun Dec 18, 2011 at 12:32:41 PM EST
    this has also been a big problem in other cities where i've lived, & where i live now - if my current city, with its corrupt government, had a functional & fully staffed police force, the problem would likely be even worse

    so many of us never really grasp what our white-skin privilege means for day-to-day living, or realize how our own illegitimate advantages give us a head start in life, perpetuate injustice for so-called minorities, & play a role in the interracial distrust that affects our society & its politics at every level

    Yes, it's a huge problem (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Zorba on Sun Dec 18, 2011 at 03:18:58 PM EST
    It's not nearly as big a problem for females of color, but I have very close friends with bi-racial daughters (Dad is white, Mom is black).  And it used to drive my friends, and their daughters, crazy because virtually every time the girls went into a store (in our predominantly "white" area), they would be followed closely by one of the store employees.  Granted, not anywhere near as serious (or as potentially dangerous) as being stopped while driving a car or walking down a street and being hassled by police, but still a humiliation.

    Our ACLU in Pennsylvania filed (5.00 / 2) (#2)
    by Peter G on Sun Dec 18, 2011 at 02:11:49 PM EST
    a class action suit over this practice in Philadelphia a year ago. Our named plaintiffs were two African-American males who had repeatedly been stopped and questioned for no valid reason -- a young Georgetown law grad who is a real estate attorney and investor, and a member of the state legislature (who has since been elected sheriff). As you might imagine, the City settled with the ACLU within six months with promises of new training, monitoring, and record-keeping.

    And just yesterday, Phila's new sheriff, (none / 0) (#26)
    by Peter G on Wed Dec 21, 2011 at 09:03:41 PM EST
    who was at the time of the incident a state legislator, was awarded $50,000 by a jury for his illegal 90-min. detention for questioning the unconstitutional stop and frisk of two other black men in his district.  Sen./Sheriff Williams suffered permanent nerve damage to his wrists from the deliberately punitive excessive tightening of handcuffs during that time period.

    I'm sorry, Donald (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Zorba on Sun Dec 18, 2011 at 03:32:26 PM EST
    Really, it's not only humiliating for the person singled out, it's an embarrassment for our country, that we cannot get beyond this mind-set.  I have been patted down and wanded way, way more than once by the TSA while flying.  I never could figure it out, because, basically, I'm a fairly old, and (at least I think) benign-looking woman.  Until one of my friends pointed out that, with my dark hair (admittedly getting gray now) and olive complexion and "Middle Eastern looking" features (obviously, since I'm of Greek extraction), I probably look "Arabic" to the screeners.  I think she has a point.  I also remember, when we were visiting relatives in Southern California when I was a kid and we went to Mexico for the day, my Mom was pulled aside as we were returning to the USA and asked for ID- I guess she must have looked Hispanic.  (I always did think that she should have unleashed a flurry of Greek at them, but I suppose that might have been a mistake, although I still think, what the heck they would have made of that!)  

    I agree, Donald (none / 0) (#12)
    by Zorba on Sun Dec 18, 2011 at 04:49:45 PM EST

    The problem is more acute for minorities, (5.00 / 3) (#14)
    by NYShooter on Sun Dec 18, 2011 at 08:57:59 PM EST
    But, the real problem is................the police.

    Years ago, when I was in my 20's; make that many, many years ago, a friend and I went to Las Vegas for a good time. It just so happened it was one of those Super weekends when all the Super Stars (Elvis, Johnnie, Hope, etc) were in town. Being young, and dumb, we hadn't made reservations, and, natch, there wasn't a room to be found, anywhere, for any price.

    Desperate times call for desperate measures, so, we went to a bar, got a phone book, and started calling hotels, any hotel, beginning with "A's. Amazingly, and early on......success. A hotel (albeit, sight unseen) said they had rooms available, and at a reasonable price. Jumping back into the car we zoomed off to find the hotel. (It had a Las Vegas address)

    Arriving at the hotel it quickly became apparent why they had some vacancies. It was smack-dab in the middle of a black zone, right "across the tracks" from The Strip. Young and fearless, we didn't care,  we checked in. And, as nightfall approached we showered, dressed, cologned, and set off  to score our millions.

    No sooner had we left the hotel, and while traveling through a particularly rough neighborhood, a couple of Las Vegas's "Finest." pulled us over. The cops ordered my friend out of the car and told him to stand "over there." They told me to get out also, and instructed me to stand at a different "over there." Suddenly, and without warning, or provocation, "Wack!!!" I got a baton across the back of my legs. Knees buckling, another, "Wack!!!" this time across my back and kidneys. My friend was getting the same treatment "over there."

    Finally, and after some interrogation, they got around to asking for identification. After checking everything out we were informed that we were beaten for the offense of being white in a black neighborhood. "The only white guys going to this area are drug dealers,  and murderers." And, then, just before being let go, we were told, "we actually did you a favor. Next time you'll know not to hang out with "these people."

    With our poor NYC manners, we had forgotten to say "thank you."

    "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas."

    Until tonight

    Yeah, I had a couple similar instances (none / 0) (#18)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Dec 19, 2011 at 01:30:16 PM EST
    though I never got beat on.

    Driving while young, and late at night, often seems to be enough to get you some unwanted interest from the police.


    not if you're (none / 0) (#19)
    by CST on Mon Dec 19, 2011 at 01:46:50 PM EST

    Although I guess it depends on your definition of "unwanted interest".  I didn't "want" the "you shouldn't be here" lectures or the offers to escort me home, but at then end of the day at least they don't kick the cr@p out of you.

    There is a pretty stark gender bias with cops as well.


    and stuff by the cops more than women? And women get "hit on" by cops more than guys? If so, I guess that sounds about right.

    I notice at my local 7-11 that when the grade-school gets out in the afternoon the guys behind the counter watch all the kids in the store like hawks, but pretty much ignore my old-a$$ self until I want to pay.

    Of course there's a big difference between that and cops abusing citizen's constitutional rights...


    it's not (none / 0) (#21)
    by CST on Mon Dec 19, 2011 at 02:07:26 PM EST
    just about getting "hit on", frankly a lot of the times it's more like they are trying to be your dod. It's about not being seen as a threat.

    Once stopped, I'm not gonna get "frisked" just because I happen to be in the wrong neighborhood.  I'm gonna get offered a ride home  or a new apartment.


    ahh (none / 0) (#22)
    by CST on Mon Dec 19, 2011 at 02:07:37 PM EST

    Ain't that the truth.... (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by kdog on Mon Dec 19, 2011 at 12:46:52 PM EST
    I can't imagine many things worse for a teenager than being thrown in jail. It's not something you forget about the next day. It fosters a fear and distrust of authority that can last a lifetime. It messes with your self-esteem. It's so unnecessary.

    The fear and distrust stays with you forever...it's a violation I can not forgive the state for.  And makes legitimate police work more difficult than it need be, when people like me would rather get root canal than cooperate with the police in any way shape or form.

    But I can't say it messed with my self-esteem...I knew in my heart of hearts I did nothing wrong, the law be damned because it is the law that is dead wrong.

    I thought me and my whiteboy peers got it bad from the NYPD in our younger days...it was a cakewalk compared to what black and latino youths face today, everyday, under stop and frisk.  I apologize to them all on behalf of a tyrannized city and nation.

    Sure, but it's not just "stop and frisk" (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by NYShooter on Mon Dec 19, 2011 at 03:42:53 PM EST
    I can't imagine what it must be like to go out into world every day of your life knowing that a huge plurality of people, people who don't know a single thing about you, take one look at you and immediately hate your guts.

    You don't go out into the world on an equal basis ready to compete with everyone else, for all the goodies life has to offer. You start out waayyy down there and have to crawl your way back up to zero before you're "equal."

    And, as exhausting as that must be, you go to bed every night knowing that tomorrow morning it will be the same struggle again. I, sure as heck don't have the answer other than knowing, man, it sucks.


    And on the flip.... (5.00 / 1) (#25)
    by kdog on Mon Dec 19, 2011 at 03:48:19 PM EST
    because of our bullsh*t laws and policing policies, large groups of people hate the guts of the police on sight.

    Clean up the law books with a massive eraser, end "different rules different fools", and so much of this hate and distrust might disappear.  


    this isn't stop and frisk (none / 0) (#6)
    by diogenes on Sun Dec 18, 2011 at 03:33:29 PM EST
    This is "stop, search, confiscate keys, and push into a young man's apartment", all without cause.  It makes for a good story about police excess, but it doesn't really describe the experience of being stopped and frisked for a weapon and being found not to have one, nor does it discuss the advantage to a neighborhood of having every potential crook know that they could be more or less randomly stopped and frisked and then get years in prison if they ARE carrying an illegal handgun.

    That particuar "advantage" (5.00 / 3) (#7)
    by Peter G on Sun Dec 18, 2011 at 03:44:04 PM EST
    to the neighborhood is not an option under the Fourth Amendment.  It's that giving-up-liberty-in-hopes-of-gaining-a-little-more-security thing again.  The Framers already resolved that one in favor of liberty, and I for one am working every day -- along with many others -- to keep it that way as long as we can.

    Benjamin Franklin (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by Zorba on Sun Dec 18, 2011 at 04:31:34 PM EST
    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

    Indeed.  True then, true now.


    speaking of "potential crooks" (5.00 / 2) (#10)
    by The Addams Family on Sun Dec 18, 2011 at 04:33:05 PM EST
    Bernie Madoff could have been "randomly [sic] stopped & frisked" any number of times, in any number of neighborhoods, & found not to be carrying a weapon

    No weapon on Bernie? (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by Peter G on Sun Dec 18, 2011 at 07:45:13 PM EST
    Only his fountain pen. (Hat tip to Woody, 1939 @2:21 for the referenced verse)

    Not a police state? (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by Lora on Mon Dec 19, 2011 at 10:05:58 AM EST

    UC Davis Protesters Pepper Sprayed

    People must be kept in line so the ruling class can continue their rule unchecked.  That means minorities, youth, women, voters, protesters, whistleblowers, anybody in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    It's not the police.  It's the rulers of the police state who hire and train and command the police.  Oh yeah, and us for letting 'em.

    I'm for bringing back the term "ploice brutality."  That's what it is.  But let us remember, it's police brutality because of police state tyranny.


    correction (none / 0) (#16)
    by Lora on Mon Dec 19, 2011 at 10:08:14 AM EST
    oops... that's "police brutality."