At a rate of every minute every day, the New York Police Department stops a person, questions them, asks for identification, and frisks them, sometimes at gunpoint, sometimes slapped against a wall. The number one reason for the stop, according to NYPD statistics, is that the person made a “furtive” look. The number two reason is “other.” Most of the time that person is black or Latino and most of the time they are living in the city’s poorest communities. A very small percentage of these “stop and frisks” result in arrest or the seizure of any kind of contraband. Since 2002, the number of stop and frisks has increased from 149, 000 to approaching 700,000 this year. The NYPD claims that “stop and frisk” is an effective policing strategy but its own statistics paint a different picture.
A dedicated group of activists, along with author and professor Cornel West , stood in front of a police precinct in Harlem last October and got arrested in protest against Stop and Frisk. They are now on trial and face up to 15 days in prison if convicted. I got to know many of these activists over the past few months and photographed them as they try to put an end to police violence and intimidation. When police gunned down an unarmed teenager , Ramarley Graham, from the Bronx, wanted for no crime, these activists were there, at the wake, at vigils in front of the 46th Bronx police precinct. They have handed out thousands of buttons and distributed literature. They patrol neighborhoods to watch and video tape police activities. They are some of the most dedicated people I have met. Here are a few images.