2013-04-26 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

Stop And Think (Is It Fair?)
By Josmar Trujillo

Shore Front Parkway is bustling with activity today. Construction crews are working around the clock to get some semblance of normalcy back to the beaches in time for summer. Residents are looking forward to sitting on their beach chairs and putting the gloom of the past few months behind them.

But some things going back to normal aren't necessarily in everyone's best interests.

Are many people approached, detained and frisked by police while tanning on the beach? Certainly we've all seen our fair share of tickets handed out to beach-goers who drink alcohol, try to BBQ or otherwise break some beach rule. And of course the time honored tradition of truancy cops rounding up kids cutting class at the beach. But the reality is that most people enjoy Rockaway's beaches in general comfort, free of having police interfere in their lives.

The same cannot be said for many residents of Far Rockaway, especially if you are a young black male. Of course I am speaking directly to the issue of Stop and Frisk. The 101st Precinct, which polices most of the eastern peninsula, has been one of the most aggressive precincts in Queens and in the City when it comes to stops, or what police term "250's." The most recent data compiled by civil liberties groups indicate that of this precinct's stops, 95 percent were of Blacks and Latinos (even higher than the City average) and almost 90 percent of the time the stops resulted in nary a summons, let alone an arrest.

This is a particularly key time for Stop and Frisk. There is federal trial underway in Manhattan that is essentially putting the practice on trial for what some see as a clear violation of the 4th amendment rights of New Yorkers. And the most recent public opinion polls now show that a majority of New Yorkers now oppose the policy. But that hasn't stopped police officials, including those from the 101st Precinct, from defiantly defending the practice. After I raised concerns about Stop and Frisk at the precinct's Community Council meeting last Wednesday, the command- ing officer made it clear that their tactics would be going back to normal post- Sandy in spite of the controversies.

But is that the kind of Rockaway we want going forward? One that has police treat two sides of the peninsula in completely different ways?

It's clear that far too many police officers view young black males in Far Rockaway first as potential criminals, second as citizens. Their rationale? Fighting high crime. But if Stop and Frisk is such an effective crime fighting tool then shouldn't crime be down? Also, the rationale for Stop and Frisk originally hinged on what're known as "Terry Laws" which originated from the Supreme Court ruling on the Terry v. Ohio case which said officers had the discretion to detain and frisk people when they had a "reasonable suspicion" someone was in the middle of, or about to commit a crime and that they may be carrying guns. But the commanding officer indicated that the policy gave his officers the discretion to use "250's" to fight crime in general, not simply for "getting guns of the streets", as the Mayor tries to tell us. In fact, local activists tell me that police have bragged to those they stop that they have the power to detain and frisk them for simply shaking hands outside their homes, which they say is indicative of a potential drug sale.

I'm sure that no resident of Rockaway is ready to have their children subjected to the indignity of harassment and the consequences of criminalization. So why do we allow it to happen to our neighbor's children? After a superstorm reminded us of our common humanity, shouldn't we be ready to call for an end to a police state for some members of the community based on geography and race?

If we want to "build back better" then it seems to me we probably need to pay attention to the social structures as well as the physical ones. And don't worry, it won't cost a dime of the Sandy aid money that everyone is eyeing. All it takes is the political fortitude to demand equal treatment under the law, regardless of where you live and what color skin you have.

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