The New York City council Wednesday held a hearing about blocking the controversial “stop and frisk” policy. That allows police to stop, search, and question people suspected of carrying weapons or drugs. It’s also the subject of a New York Times short film. Host Michel Martin speaks with a producer and a young man featured in the film.
I’m Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, we’ll hear from a doctor who’s worked with the poorest of the poor in San Francisco, opened up insights into health care for everybody. We’ll hear from the author of “God’s Hotel” in a few minutes.
But, first, on the other side of the country, New Yorkers flocked to a city council hearing yesterday about proposals to change an increasingly controversial policing strategy there. You might have heard about it. It’s called Stop and Frisk and it allows police there to stop, question and search people if officers suspect they’re carrying weapons or drugs.
Now, city officials, including the mayor, have defended the policy for years, saying it is, in part, responsible for a dramatic drop in the city’s crime rate, but civil rights leaders and others who work with youth say the method has created a demeaning, even hostile, environment for young black and Latino men that resembles marshal law.
Last year, New York City police stopped and frisked more than 685,000 times. The New York Civil Liberties Union says 87 percent of those searches involved blacks and Latinos.
We’re joined now by two guests who say the numbers really don’t tell the story of what it’s like to be a young black or Latino man living in the city and the effect that this has on their lives. Now, I do think it’s important to tell you we reached out to the mayor’s office, the New York Police Department and the City Law Department repeatedly. They have not responded to our requests for comment.
Having said that, Eddie Martinez is a filmmaker and co-producer of a short New York Times documentary called “The Scars of Stop-and-Frisk.” Also with us is Tyquan Brehon [member of Make the Road New York]. Tyquan was featured in the documentary and they’re both with us now.
Welcome and thank you both for joining us.
TYQUAN BREHON: Thanks for having us.
EDDIE MARTINEZ: Yeah, thank you.
MARTIN: Let me start with you, Eddie. What made you want to make this film?
MARTINEZ: Well, my co-producer on this film, Julie Dressner, approached me because we had this opportunity to work with Open Society Institute. The numbers tell a particular story, but we realized that they were missing out on a really huge part of the issue, which is the human impact of this policy.
The disproportionate number of people who are affected by this policy are young black and Latino men and we wanted to let people in on what that was like, you know, what it might be like to be a young black man, a young Latino man being chronically stopped.
MARTIN: And when you say chronically, you really mean that. You mean – for example, Tyquan, you say in the film that you’ve been stopped at least 60 or 70 times and, sometimes, four or five times in a month?
MARTIN: Talk a little bit more about that, if you would. Like, typically, what would happen?
BREHON: Like, I’ll be walking down a block and cops – they’ll – first, they’ll just sit there and watch you. They’ll creep really slow. You’ll keep looking back because you’re like, there’s a car following me. Like, the first thing, you get scared. Then they just pull you over and they ask you a bunch of questions. They frisk you. They’ll check your pockets. They’re searching. They’re like…
MARTIN: They put their hands in your pockets?
MARTIN: And things like that?
MARTIN: Edwin, have you ever been stopped?
MARTINEZ: I’ve never been stopped in this – under this policy. I’m also older. I’m in my 30s and this policy is relatively new, so much that, when I was Tyquan’s age, this policy didn’t exist, so I had other run-ins with the police and other issues growing up in the Bronx with police, but not specifically under this policy.
MARTIN: Tyquan, could you just talk a little bit more about how it makes you feel?
BREHON: When you’re stopped, you feel violated because, like, you got somebody you don’t know and they’ll touch you and nobody wants somebody else rubbing up against them. You also – it’s embarrassing because they do it in front of everybody, so it’s like you’re put on display. It’s kind of scary, too, like your heart’s beating. Like, the adrenaline pumps really fast because you’re not – you got somebody against you that has power over you and you can’t really do nothing.
MARTIN: One of the points that the film makes, Eddie, is that this actually affected Tyquan’s willingness to go to school. Tyquan, I want to ask you about that. Why did it make you not want to go to school? I mean, Eddie, I want to ask you if you’ve heard that from other people whom you talked to. So, Tyquan first.
BREHON: Well, it made me not want to go to school because, when you go outside, you see cops everywhere and the school that I went to – it was over-policed. There was a lot of cops in there and it was like, after a while, you’re outside and then you’re in school. You’re constantly around cops. You want to break from it, so I got to the point where I was just like, I don’t want to be next to cops at all, so the only place I knew where there wasn’t no cops was in my home.
MARTIN: And, Eddie, what about you? Had you heard this from other people?
MARTINEZ: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s a really common experience. You know, it’s so common that it’s an accepted reality of being a young man of color in the city and, you know, I think that while the police in schools is a totally different kind of issue if you’re thinking about it as far as policy. I think, when you’re living it, you don’t really draw the lines in that way. You know, if you – when you leave your house, if you’re seeing police at every sort of stage of your day, then that’s all you really know.
You know, in the video, we kind of showed a lot of visuals of Tyquan walking because it’s the thing that you do in New York. New Yorkers walk more than they do anything else and that’s when it happens. It happens during these normal, typical, everyday routine times.
That can have a really detrimental effect on your psychology, if you’re just doing normal things and, as a kid, you feel like you’re being punished for it, in a way.
MARTIN: Tyquan, do you and your friends talk about this? Did you ever talk about this or did you ever talk about this with your parents, for example, about how you felt about this?
BREHON: I’ve talked about it with my parents, but it never came out so much as it came out when I talked about it with a teacher from my previous high school. That’s when everything came out.
MARTIN: Why do you think you never talked to your parents about it?
BREHON: Well, when you talk to your parents, like, the first thing they ask is, like, what are you doing that’s making the cops, like, come after you? So it’s like, what are you doing? And then, why are you always getting stopped? And they don’t know, like, the true story, so it’s like you can’t sit and actually have a conversation.
MARTIN: You know, that’s interesting. I’m wondering, Eddie, do you think that there might be a generational issue around this, that the parents of a lot of these kids don’t see it as being a problem?
MARTINEZ: If you’re a mother, I could presume that you think the way it was back when you were growing up is that, basically, if you were running with the right crowd, the cops kind of wouldn’t mess with you, which is kind of like how it was when I was growing up.
But, now, that – you’re not protected from that and I think blaming the young people being stopped or anyone being stopped is – it’s dangerous because it further supports criminalizing people for just living their lives.
MARTIN: There are people who will say, you know what? That’s unfortunate, but the city is safer as a result of this policy. I mean, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg continues to defend this tactic. So what about that? You know, Eddie, I could not help but notice that, when this documentary has been posted on the New York Times site for a little bit of time now, there are a number of people who say this. They say – here’s one. I’ll read this one. It’s from somebody who posts as Bronx mom and she – I hope – I assume it’s a she – writes, Stop-and-Frisks protect little black children, too. The idea is to get rid of the crime and this is an effective way of dealing with it. Tough police tactics have cleaned up New York City dramatically and made it a safer and better place to live for most of its citizens. Even the small drug busts keep the larger population safe.
What about that? I want to ask each of you. Tyquan, what do you think about that?
BREHON: What’s safe about a child who’s scared to go outside because he’s scared he might get stopped? I’m a – like, I’ve never, never had drugs on me, never carried a weapon before, but I’m still scared to go outside because I know there’s cops out there. Like, how is that safer?
MARTIN: Eddie, what do you think?
MARTINEZ: You know, I agree. I think that it’s more complex than what the policy states and the people who advocate for the policy, but there’s a lot of people who say that crime rates were dropping before the policy was put into place.
But, even if it does stop some crimes, you know, I always – I think, at what cost? And I think that larger impact of how it affects actual people – it’s why we made the video. It’s why we, you know, worked with Tyquan to tell the story.
You know, it’s not also just about people being stopped. There’s also the police officers who are real individuals and there’s this disconnect in that moment when these people should really be on the same page, doing the same thing. Everybody wants to live in a safe neighborhood, but I think the way it’s happening is the people who are being affected, the communities – it’s happening to them. Policing is happening to them and a lot of them are being made to feel unsafe.
MARTIN: I understand the whole purpose of this documentary is to try to make this real for people who aren’t living it, but can you think of an analogy for somebody who really thinks it has nothing to do with them that might make this point? Why should they care?
MARTINEZ: You know, this sounds kind of strangely patriotic, but we’re a country that’s founded on due process and ideals of freedom because then, when those values are infringed upon, then we have the duty to step up and to speak our minds about it.
MARTIN: Tyquan, what would you want people to most understand about your experience and the things that have happened to you or from the documentary, if they see it? What would you want most people – what would you most hope people would take away from hearing you?
BREHON: I hope that people that heard my story – I hope that inspires them to actually step up and say something. A lot of people don’t step up and say something because they’re scared. They don’t think there’s nothing you can do, but I did the documentary to get people to actually step up and tell their stories. If we all come together, we can make change.
MARTIN: Tyquan Brehon was featured in the documentary, “The Scars of Stop-and-Frisk.” That documentary was co-produced by Edwin Martinez. He’s a filmmaker. They were both kind enough to join us from our bureau in New York.
Tyquan, Eddie, thank you so much for speaking with us.
BREHON: You’re welcome.
MARTINEZ: Thank you.
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