“You’re a Mutt” : Racial Policing Practices

On June 3, 2011, three plainclothes New York City Police officers stopped a Harlem teenager named Alvin, one of 600,000 mostly Black and Latino young men who are stopped for no reason except their race (and gender) each year in New York.

The stop and frisk of would have been unremarkable, except that Alvin secretly captured the interaction on his cell phone, and the resulting audio, part of a new video released by The Nation, is one of the only known recordings of stop-and-frisk in action. When Alvin asks why he is being threatened with arrest, the other officer responds, “For being a fucking mutt.” Later in the stop, while holding Alvin’s arm behind his back, the first officer says, “Dude, I’m gonna break your fuckin’ arm, then I’m gonna punch you in the fuckin’ face.”
The video about stop-and-frisk (13:15) is here:

The audio was recently played at a meeting of The Morris Justice Project, a group of Bronx residents who have organized around the issue of stop-and-frisk and have been compiling data on people’s interactions with police. Jackie Robinson, mother of two boys, expected not to be surprised when told about the contents of the recording. “It’s stuff we’ve all heard before,” she said at the gathering. Yet Robinson visibly shuddered at one of the audio’s most violent passages. She had heard plenty about these encounters, but had never actually listened to one in action.

Although perhaps not surprising, part of what is compelling about this short video clip is that includes interviews with two members of the NYPD. With their identities disguised, two officers from two different precincts in two separate boroughs speak about the same types of pressures put on front line police from higher-ups to meet numerical goals or face disciplinary action and retaliation. Most chillingly, both officers use the word “hunt” when describing the relentless quest for summonses, stops and arrests.

The racial pattern of these stops – something like 87% of the stops are of Black and Latino young men – and the utter lack of effectiveness in terms of ‘policing’ – only 1% yield any weapons – highlight the stark racial policing of these practices. It seems clear that the NYPD’s policing is intended to exercise control over young men of color in the city, and that these policies are guided by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg. These unjust, racist police practices will remain in place until those at the highest levels of city government decide to take action to dismantle these policies.

Racial Profiling and Mass Deportation of Black and Latino Men

A recent report by the New York Civil Liberties Union revealed that the New York Police Department stopped and frisked nearly 700,000 people last year. Black and Latino youth were the primary targets of these policing efforts. Black and Latino males between the ages of 14 and 21 accounted for 41.6 percent of stops in 2011, yet they make up less than five percent of the city’s population. Ninety percent of Black and Latino young men who were stopped were innocent. The disproportionate targeting of black and Latino young men in New York City can help us to understand another phenomenon: why 98 percent of deportees are sent to Latin America and the Caribbean and why over three quarters are male. In my research with Dominican and Jamaican deportees, I found that the vast majority of them were first picked up by police officers and then handed over to immigration authorities.


(Image from here)

 

If you walk into an immigration detention center today – where an average of about 34,000 non-citizens are held as they wait on immigration hearings and for their deportation to happen – you will find that nearly all detainees are black and brown men. This is remarkable, because not all immigrants are men, and not all immigrants are from Latin America and the Caribbean. About 25% of undocumented immigrants are from Europe and Asia. And about half of all immigrants are women. So, how is this happening? Why are most detainees and deportees Latin American and Caribbean men? The answer to this question lies in racial profiling. As immigration law enforcement increasingly is being carried out by criminal law enforcement agents, the effects of racial profiling in criminal law enforcement have spillover effects into immigration law enforcement.

 

(Image from here)

Deportations are carried out by immigration law enforcement officers who work in two branches of the Department of Homeland Security: Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  In Fiscal Year 2010, immigration law enforcement agents apprehended over half a million non-citizens. The vast majority – 463,382 – were apprehended by the Border Patrol. The remaining 53,610 were encountered by ICE, usually within the interior of the United States, in cities such as Chicago, Atlanta, and San Francisco.

Border Patrol arrests happen much as they have since the creation of the Border Patrol in 1924, except that there have been enormous technological advances. Border Patrol agents have checkpoints and helicopters and motion sensors and all sorts of ways to find people along the US/Mexico border. They also have racial profiling, a central technique in immigration law enforcement along the border for the past 90 years. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Mexicans account for the vast majority of arrests along the Mexican border. In addition, the presumption of illegality has also spread to nationals of Mexico’s southern neighbors in Central America. Thus, the second largest group to face deportation is Central Americans. However, there is a third group that also faces deportation in large numbers: Caribbean immigrants from the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. Notably, Dominicans and Jamaicans, unlike Central Americans, are not likely to be stopped along the border for “Mexican appearance.” So, how are they getting caught up in the deportation dragnet?

When I spoke with Dominican and Jamaican deportees, very few of them reported having been arrested by immigration agents along the border. Nearly all of the Jamaicans and Dominicans I interviewed had arrived in New York City via airplane. Immigration law enforcement agents generally do not have license to walk up and down the streets of U.S. cities and demand proof of U.S. citizenship from pedestrians. The Border Patrol is only authorized to work in U.S. border areas. And, ICE, only has 20,000 employees overall, only a fraction of whom are officers engaged in raiding homes and worksites arresting illegally present immigrants. ICE does not have the staff or resources to patrol the county. Instead, ICE works closely with criminal law enforcement agencies to apprehend immigrants.

 


(Image from here.)

Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) is the division of ICE that carries out arrests. On an average day, Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) officers arrest 108 immigrants, and deport 1,057 people. ERO officers arrest many of these 108 immigrants per day after they have been processed through the criminal justice system.

There are at least three ways that Police/ICE cooperation works:

  1. A police officer pulls over a person for an alleged traffic violation. If that police officer is deputized to work for ICE, they can run the driver’s fingerprints right there on the road. If the driver turns out to be illegally present in the United States or has an immigration hold, the police officer can arrest the driver and hand them over to ICE.
  2. A police officer arrests a person and charges them with a crime. They take them to the police station, fingerprint them, and then run their fingerprints through the ICE database. Even if the police decide to drop the charges, if the person turns out to have an immigration hold, they will detain them until ICE comes to pick them up.
  3. A police officer arrests a person, charges them with a crime, and the person serves time in jail or prison. Before being released from jail or prison, the police can call ICE to come and check their eligibility to remain in the United States.

All three of these scenarios begin with a police arrest. We know well from criminal justice scholarship that black and Latino men are much more likely to be arrested than other people. The cooperation of police with ICE, then, leads to an expansion of this racially stratified system of punishment into the realm of immigration law enforcement.

Boston Cop Fired for Racial Slur in Email

Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis said Officer Justin Barrett was fired yesterday for violating department rules when he sent the e-mail on July 22, 2009.  In the email, Barrett called Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates a “jungle monkey.”  The email was sent following the incident in Cambridge last summer when Prof. Gates was arrested in his own home on a disorderly conduct charge.  “(Gates’) first priority should be to get off the phone and comply with police, for if I was the officer he verbally assaulted like a … jungle monkey, I would have sprayed him in the face with OC deserving of his belligerent non-compliance,” the e-mail said.

Barrett, for his part, said at the time, “I am not a racist.” Barrett sent the email to several individuals and to the Boston Globe.     He went on to explain, saying, “It was a poor choice of words. I did not mean to offend anyone.”

No doubt some will argue that Barrett’s  “right free speech” has been violated with this decision, but from my perspective it seems like an appropriate step on the part of the Boston Police Department, and a step in the right direction for those interested in equal protection under the law.

It Lives: The Image of Me Constructed by You

[NOTE: I got two posts today from contributors, Terence and Danielle, on this key and troubling story. I am posting both over next 12 hours. Please add your comments.]

FBI Police Chevy Tahoe“Come on boy; you know the routine. Assume the position.”

Yes, unfortunately in these here United States of America, my skin is my sin. The luck of possessing a hue associated with Africa and the ownership of a Y chromosome carries a heavy burden. The burden was front and center this week within the story of Bonnie Sweeten of Feasterville, Pennsylvania . Ms. Sweeten made a frantic phone call to 911 from Philadelphia, on May 26th from the trunk of a car where she told authorities that she and her 9 year old daughter were, after being rear ended earlier. She went on to say that after the accident, after exiting her SUV, she and her daughter were then kidnapped. The story caught national attention from NBC to Fox news. The police, the amber alert system, and the FBI all pulled their efforts together to save them damsels in distress from the “evil doorers” (Creative Commons License photo credit: JLaw45 ).

You might ask yourself, who would commit such a disreputable deed? Well it was “two Black men” of course! And of course they were driving, of all cars, “a Cadillac.”

Well today, we found out it was all a disgusting hoax. In fact, the two were bound for Disney World. After taking out thousands of dollars from her family account and buying two tickets to Florida, mother, with her child, were later spotted boarding a plane in Tampa which led the local police to their hideout with Mickey at the Grand Floridian Hotel in Orlando. On Thursday, May 28th, the Today Show discussed the issue of Michelle Henry; District Attorney for Bucks County Pennsylvania, who was asked by the newscaster whether this was a case of racial profiling. Ms. Henry avoided the question raised .

My frustration observed in writing this entry is not without merit. For this country has a long history of feeding a stereotype of Black males as dangerous, oversexed, with out a moral compass [See the book, The Assassination of the Black Male Image by Earl Ofari Hutchinson]. Where again you might ask?

  • Examples can be traced from the stereotypical, controversial, and influential 1915 film, Birth of a Nation,
  • March 25, 1931, Alabama with the death of what the media called the Scottsboro Boys.
  • October 24, 1989, Boston—Pregnant Carol DiMaiti Stewart, 30 years old died, from a gun shot to the head. Her husband, Charles, 29 years old reported to police that a Black man claiming to be an undercover policeman pulled their vehicle over and shot he and his wife; killing his wife and later after two weeks of survival, their eight week premature unborn child. Later the police discovered that the husband actually killed his wife and unborn child.
  • October 24, 1994, Union, South Carolina—In order to win the affection of a man with whom she had been having an affair, Susan Smith placed her three year and 14 month old children into the safety devises in her car and rolled the car into John D. Long Lake. She claimed to the police that she and her children were carjacked by a Black man. During the nine days before she had confessed her merciless crime, a number of Black males were harassed and seen as possible perpetrators in the crime.
  • July 11, 2007, Tituville, Florida—Bob Allen, a Senior Republican, and former co-chairman of the campaign of Senator John McCain arrested for attempting to solicit oral sex for 20 dollars from an undercover police officer in a men’s toilets facility. Mr. Allen has a long record of being a proponent of ant-gay legislation in Florida. When arrested, he attempted to avoid prosecution by declaring that the undercover police officer, who happened to be a large black man, intimidated him and Allen felt he had to do whatever it took to survive.
  • Within the 21st century there is an effort to still demonize the Black male and depict them as a threat to society. Black males have been historically and presently seen as a sexual, physical, and emotional threat to Whites. Some Blacks and other people of color have also helped to feed the stereotype. It is time for us all to bash this image when it is presented.

    Police Brutality and the National Political Agenda

    The Root ( a Scales Of Justicevery good source on racial issues) has a recent post by Sherrilyn Ifill, University of Maryland law professor and civil rights lawyer, on the continuing reality of police malpractice and brutality, most of it directed against men of color—most especially, black men (Creative Commons License photo credit: srqpix). She begins with the sad “talk”:

    It’s one of the depressing ironies of black life that in the Obama era, black mothers and fathers must continue giving their teenage sons “the talk.” I’m not talking about the birds and the bees. I’m talking about the “how to act when the police stop you” talk. Rule 1. Don’t talk back to the officer. Rule 2. It doesn’t matter if you weren’t doing anything wrong. Rule 3. And this is critical, don’t reach for your wallet without asking the officer first. Supplemental rule. Carry a pink cell phone if you can. A black cell phone may look like a gun to a nervous cop.

    She lists some of the many police killings in the last couple of years, such as brutal taser death of Baron Pikes in Winnfield in 2008:

    Tasered nine times within 14 minutes by a 21-year-old white officer, Pikes may well have been dead – handcuffed and unresponsive in a police cruiser—when the last two 50,000-volt charges were delivered directly to his chest. The officer reportedly admitted that he began using his Taser on Pikes when the handcuffed black man responded too slowly to the officer’s demand that Pikes get up and walk to the police car.

    Then mentions others like this one:

    In Dallas, 23-year-old Robbie Tolan, a minor league baseball player and the son of former Major League Baseball player Bobbie Tolan, was shot in his own driveway in an affluent white suburb on New Year’s Eve. White police officers, purportedly believing that the SUV driven by Tolan and his cousin was stolen, approached the young black men and ordered them to lie down on the ground. The car belonged to Tolan’s parents, and the officers reportedly did not identify themselves. When Tolan’s parents came outside to find out what was happening, one of the officers allegedly shoved Mrs. Tolan against the garage. Robbie Tolan yelled to the officer to stop pushing his mother, and that, witnesses say, is when he was shot by one of the officers.

    She notes a Youtube video of

    The recent case involving the cell phone video of a drunk, white, off-duty police officer in Erie, Pa., making crude jokes about a black murder victim and ridiculing the victim’s grieving mother, illustrates part of the problem.

    We have discussed some of these major instances of police brutality on this blog numerous times.

    In conclusion, Ifill makes this on-target comment:

    The results of these incidents are depressingly predictable. Outrage. Marches. Most often no indictment. Sometimes an indictment. Always an acquittal. More marches. Next incident. The stunning lack of change suggests that our protest-oriented approach to police brutality must focus less on punishment for individual officers, and more on systemic institutional changes within our police academies and departments.

    Just how systemic the police harassment and brutality is can be seen in polls and in social science research. For example, one 2001 Gallup poll found 83 percent of black respondents had experienced racial profiling in the last year. In addition, in a 2007 Gallup poll a fifth of the black respondents reported that had suffered discrimination at the hands of police officers, a proportion that has increased in recent years.

    Lest some think that we are ignoring lots of white victims of police brutality here, we might note that one social science study back in the 1990s analyzed 130 police-brutality accounts in several cities across the country. In that reviews of cases, criminologist Kim Lersch discovered that the targets of this type of police malpractice are almost always black or Latino. The latter made up 97 percent of the victims of police brutality, while the overwhelming majority (93 percent) of officers involved were white. Police brutality overwhelmingly involves white-on-black or other white-on-minority violence. (See discussion in Chapter 5 here.)

    Racism and Urban “Unrest”

    Teresa Nielsen Hayden has a terrific post over at “Making Light,” in which she dissects current reports that police are concerned about urban “unrest” if Obama loses the election (hat tip to Paul at Brainstorms).  Nielsen Hayden (last name corrected, thanks to Tom W.) refers to this article at The HIll, the leading newspaper of Congress and Capitol Hill, and here’s the relevant bit from that article:

    Some worry that if Barack Obama loses and there is suspicion of foul play in the election, violence could ensue in cities with large black populations. Others based the need for enhanced patrols on past riots in urban areas (following professional sports events) and also on Internet rumors.

    Good grief.  I study, read and write about racism all the time and yet sometimes, I’m still shocked by it, as I was by this nasty turn of events.  Nielsen Hayden, for her part, is spot on and calls the report (and the police preparation) out for what it is:

    This is setting up a fraudulent racist narrative: that any unrest on Election Day will consist of inner-city blacks rioting because the black candidate didn’t win. Some of the things that narrative fails to take into account:

    —The most notable recent instance of rioting while an election was in progress did not involve a local urban black population. It was in Florida in 2000, and the rioters were known Republican campaign operatives brought into the state on the national Republican Party’s nickel.

    She makes an excellent point.   And, when I read about the police preparation for “urban unrest,” I don’t think it’s meant to conjure the image of all those RNC staffers in their causal-Friday-Gap-wear (erroneously dubbed the “Brooks Brothers Riot,” but they just weren’t that well dressed).  Nielsen Hayden goes on in the rest of her post to detail other parts of this “fraudulent racist narrative,” and if you’re following the election closely I highly recommend reading her post in full.

    This is Not Helping

    Occasionally, someone will suggest that that the best way to address the persistence of racism is to begin adopting a “race-blind” analysis that abandons the use of racial categories. As it turns out, this doesn’t help eliminate racism and racial inequality, it merely obscures the reality of it. Here’s a case in point.

    The NYPD recently collected and released a quite extensive dataset on police shootings over the past 11 years (image from Flickr Creative Commons). The data included such details as the number of shots fired, the reason for each shooting, and how many bullets hit their target. Yet, after 1997 there was no data on the race of people shot by police. Today, the New York Times published a partial explanation for this curious omission of data, which emerged as a result of a lawsuit filed against the NYPD by the New York Civil Liberties Union. Here’s the relevant bit:

    “Testimony by a former police chief now offers an explanation. The former chief, Louis R. Anemone, said that while the data on people killed by officers were being compiled in 1998, the police commissioner, Howard Safir, ordered the department not to include the race of those killed by officers.

    The testimony by Mr. Anemone, a former chief of department, did not say why Mr. Safir made his decision, but the shift appeared to have occurred during a public furor over race and the police’s use of deadly force in the shooting of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed West African immigrant, in February 1999. Mr. Diallo was killed in a barrage of 41 police bullets in the Bronx.”

    Here, the former police commissioner intuitively understands what many social commentators on race fail to grasp. Namely, that if you bury knowledge about racism and racist practices (such as the NYPD’s abysmal record), then you effectively subvert efforts to combat racism.