I can’t help but think as to what is the real motive and what is it that drives the New York City Police Department to come up with so many ways to arrest, or detain many of our youth here in the South Bronx? We know that they argue that it is all about halting the crime rate in our community. However, we who are at the receiving end of this argument and police policy can argue quite differently.
As a father of three who have grown up in the South Bronx I remember many times that we as parents would be as worried of our kids being detained and harassed by police as being mugged. This might sound crazy, but true. The experiences that we have had with the police in our neighborhoods have not been as pleasant as what many of the police cars would have inscribed on their sides as “Neighborhood Police Teams.” They should go back and inscribe what they had on the cars when I was a teenager, “Tactical Patrol Force.” At least then they were more honest because it was a “Patrol Force” making us feel as if we were living in an occupied territory.
Today the police use better adjectives to describe their work and they mix it up with statistics to prove that they are doing nothing wrong except trying to keep us safe. However, once again we need to look beyond the rhetoric and see the end result.
For example the controversial “Stop & Frisk” program that the police officially call, “Reasonable Suspicion Stops” is another reminder of how statistics can be used to justify a wrong policy. Those of us that have been the victim of this controversial policy know that police have abused this policy. My family has had personal experience where my son was arrested for “possession and intent to sell marijuana.” The fact is that my son had nothing on his possession except a $5 bill to buy his lunch on 161st St. and Gerard Avenue. He was waiting outside this area for a friend who told him to wait there because he too wanted to buy lunch. When his friend came out of the building and met up with my son several squad cars pulled up as if they were robbing the Chase bank on the corner of 161st Street. The Police told them to empty their pockets. My son refused and asked why? They told him that they were observed going into a building where they had observed drug transactions. My son told them he was not even in the building. After much pressure from the police, his friend emptied his pocket and pulled out a small dime bag of weed. He confessed to the police that my son knew nothing of this that he was waiting for him outside that he was innocent. The police did not want to hear it and told my son that they were only taking him in and would issue him a trespassing summons, which he could fight in court.
What really occurred was more typical of a third world country nightmare and not of a developed New York City. My son was never allowed to make a call. He was kept in a cell for over 16 hours. His absence for such a long time leaving his apartment open, TV on and no notice of his whereabouts led to an entire family meltdown thinking the worse. It was not until next day that after calling hospitals did we learn from a fellow NYPD friend that my son was arrested for possession with intent to sell marijuana.
At his arraignment the judge could not believe that my son was pleading innocent? He had the audacity to ask his defense attorney why was he not pleading guilty? That if he had nothing to hide and pleaded to a simple desk appearance ticket and did not get into any trouble his record would be erased after a year. His attorney told the judge that he and his family (we were all in court with him) were not going to plead guilty to something that he did not do (kudos to the Bronx Defenders). The judge was visibly angry and murmured something, banged his gravel and said, “Fine let him go to trial.”
It took almost two years and my son was found innocent as the police eventually dropped all charges since they had no evidence from the start. However, we took it further and sued the police department to which my son won an out of court settlement. His award was not worth the pain and agony that our entire family went through that day that he went missing from noon till next day. However, it was a small victory to show the NYPD that they are not invincible and that once in a while they will be held accountable for their actions.
Unfortunately, the majority of the young adults that get stopped, harassed and illegally searched by the police do not know their rights thus the police get away with detaining thousands of innocent youths. What the statistics don’t show is how many of those youth are at risk of ruining their lives because through they all might walk with just a summons many of our youth are at risk of being detained a second time just for being minority and living in the South Bronx. Being detained a second time on a desk appearance summons might send that innocent young person to a juvenile detention center where statistics show that he might leave this time to possibly return as a felon. What else can you expect when you expose a young person to a prison experience where other youth offenders are detained? Kudos to State Commissioner Gladys Carrión for understanding this vicious cycle and determined to close many of these upstate youth detention centers that have become the new cash crops for upstate small town employment. Her studies have indicated what anyone with a conscious knows that these young people don’t need a prison environment, what they really need is some good counseling.
Meanwhile we have the NYPD who use statistics to justify why for example their Stop & Frisk policy would detain more Blacks and Latinos. For example according to NYPD Commissioners report, (2011 REASONABLE SUSPICION STOPS: PRECINCT BASED COMPARISON BY STOP AND SUSPECT DESCRIPTION) they argue: “that blacks comprised 44.9% of known crime suspects in the 40th Precinct and 53% of those stopped; Hispanics 53% of known suspects and 45.5% of those stopped; and whites 1.7% of known suspects and 1% of those stopped. I ask and this proves what?
We need to ask Police Prescient commanders why arresting 9 youngsters because one of them had a joint in a school yard considered more important than a stand up police officer who makes an arrest of one individual who was possessing a gun? We need to ask why police who bring in vans full of these non-violent youth get more recognition by their superiors than the officer who makes one arrest of a real criminal? Is it because every arrest brings in approximately 3 hours of overtime and who knows how many more hours within the criminal justice system? It seems to me that our youth are indeed a cash crop for a criminal justice system the feeds off numbers rather than quality of arrests.
It is issues like this that have made me seriously think of tossing my hat into the ring and running for City Council in the South Bronx. Someone who lives here and walks the streets here has to do a lot more screaming about what is happening to our youth. We need to look into the total decriminalization of marijuana and stop this unwarranted harassment and detainment of young people for a joint, or dime bag while real criminals walk.