New York City Council member Deborah Rose adjourned a three-and-a-half-hour evening hearing on stop-and-frisk with a word of advice:
“Be safe traveling home,” she said. “Avoid the police.”
There seemed little else to say, now that Rose and the packed room of hearing attendees had heard nearly thirty testimonies of abuse and harassment at the hands of the New York City Police Department.
Among others, Rose heard from a Bangladeshi teenager who was patted down by two male police officers looking for marijuana on her way to school, a mother who was beaten by police in front of her home for having a closed bottle of alcohol, and a civil rights activist who was thrown against a wall and frisked during an afternoon smoke break outside his Manhattan office.
The city council hearings in Brooklyn and Queens last week provided a forum for roughly sixty community members to share their stories and speak out on stop-and-frisk. Between the two hearings, all but one of the testimonies offered emphatically opposed the practice. Many who spoke called for support of the Community Safety Act, legislation that would increase oversight of a police department now operating with near complete autonomy.
Momentum has been building in the community effort against stop and frisk. On October 22, activists gathered for the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, many marching in memory of those killed by police shootings. As city council considers the Community Safety Act, organizers have been increasing pressure on local legislators to address the current impunity of the NYPD.
The City Council’s public safety committee first held a hearing on the Community Safety Act in Manhattan at 10am on Wednesday, October 10, but few from the communities most impacted by stop-and-frisk were able to attend. “Their voice needed to be a part of the record,” said council member Rose. “We are hearing from the so-called experts, but we haven’t had the personal testimonials.” The hearings were the first opportunity many community members had to share with city officials their stories of mistreatment by the NYPD.
Fifteen-year-old Ceiro De Jesus from the Bronx was one of the youngest to speak in Brooklyn. He and a group of friends were playing football at a neighborhood park on a Saturday afternoon, when two white police officers parked next to the field and ordered them to put their hands up.
When De Jesus asked why they were being frisked, the cop answered, “Because you’re young, out of control and colored…. now get your ass home before you learn how it is to be in jail.”
De Jesus told his mother, but her advice was the same as council member Rose’s: watch out for cops. He and his friends have stopped going to the park, and mostly stay indoors. “Ever since that day, I feel like I have no freedom,” he said.