Tag Archive | "stop and frisk"

Legal Aid Claims Police are Still Making Illegal Marijuana Arrests

Map compares arrests for criminal weapons possession, in red, to drug possession arrests, in green, that resulted from stop-and-frisk in the Bronx in 2011. Created from 2011 New York City Police Department stop-and-frisk data by Selase Kove-Seyram, Juanita Ceballos, and Annaliese Wiederspahn.

For 38-year-old Obediah Poteat, being stopped and frisked by the police is just a part of life in the East Tremont section of the Bronx where he lives with his wife and five children.

What’s worse, he said, is that officers end up arresting people for minor crimes, like disorderly conduct or having small amounts of marijuana in their pockets. “They are always trying to find a reason to put their hands on you,” said Poteat,  who has been stopped  multiple times, but never arrested. “To search you, to arrest you for whatever.”

Even though the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy is meant to only uncover guns, it has resulted in more and more arrests when officers inadvertently find marijuana in people’s pockets instead.

According to a July New York Times editorial, the number of arrests citywide for possession of small amounts of marijuana increased from less than 1,000 in 1990 to 50,000 in 2011. Almost 94 percent of the 16-to-19-year-olds arrested last year had no prior convictions and nearly half had no arrest record.

In September of last year, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly released a memo instructing officers not to arrest people who have small amounts of marijuana only if the drugs were in public view at the time of the initial stop. The memo cites a 1977 New York State law that changed the treatment of offenders caught with a small amount of marijuana from being grounds for arrest. Instead officers are to issue a summons ticket, similar to a speeding ticket.  The maximum penalty under New York State law for possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana that is not burning or in public view is a $100 fine.

Nine months later the Legal Aid Society filed suit against the police department in New York State Supreme Court charging officers with ignoring the commissioner’s directive, continuing their “illegal marijuana arrest practices.”

Plaintiffs in the case included residents of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.

The Legal Aid Society drew early support for its case from an unlikely source, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch. The former mayor published an op-ed in the Huffington Post in June supporting Legal Aid’s efforts to stop misdemeanor possession arrests. Koch qualified his support for stop-and-frisk saying he would only continue his support for the policy so long as it is not used to falsely make criminals out of citizens.

According to analysis by the New York World, in August of last year, the New York City Police Department made 2,486 arrests after police stops. In the month following Commissioner Kelly’s order, the New York City Police Department arrested 2,661 people on misdemeanor marijuana charges. Unlike other boroughs that saw slight drops in misdemeanor marijuana arrests in November and December, arrests in the Bronx continued to rise through the end of 2011.

The first half of 2012 yielded encouraging news. The Wall Street Journal reported in June that police made 27,492 arrests for small possession of marijuana between October and May. That represented a 24.4 percent drop from the previous eight months.

The lead Legal Aid Society attorney on the marijuana arrest practices case said police need to be bound by court orders, “Our objective is to stop this business of improperly arresting people and taking them down to central booking,” said Thomas O’Brien. “It leaves a troubling stain on their record.” The case is still pending, awaiting a judge to be assigned.

Interview with Obediah Poteat by Wiederspahn

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Sounding Off On Stop and Frisk

Tension between Bronx residents and police have been smoldering in recent weeks, in the wake of police killings of two unarmed young men.

Recent protests have followed a year of public outcry over reports that city police have disproportionately stopped and frisked Black and Latino young men, particularly those in the South Bronx, based on little more than police suspicion. Most recently, a five-borough protest spurred by residents took place last Thursday.

On Wednesday, Sept. 13, the Bronx Ink staff decided to find out if Bronx residents thought the stop-and-frisk tactics  might in any way be contributing to the growing unrest. Reporters scoured 12 community districts and collected the stories of 33 people, ranging from the ages of 19 to 72.  Of those surveyed, 43 percent were Black, 30 percent Hispanic, 15 percent White, 9 percent South Asian, and 3 percent Asian. Six were women, 27 were men. Occupations ranged from student to dishwasher to paralegal. The overall population in the Bronx is 30.1 percent Black, 53.5 percent Hispanic, 10.9 percent White, and 3.2 percent Asian.

Police argue that the stop and frisk policy has resulted in removing dangerous criminals from the street. But a majority of men interviewed complained about being stopped multiple times, even though weapons were never found. Data released by the New York Police Department last year showed that more than 400 stops occurred in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx last year, resulting in only 10 confiscated guns. Most residents surveyed said they felt they were victims of profiling based on their race. Police data showed that young Black men represent 25.6 percent of the NYPD stops but only 1.9 percent of the city’s population. The same goes for young Latino men, who make up 16 percent of the NYPD’s stops but only 2.8 percent of the city’s population.

Some of the Bronx residents’ memories were fresh, and raw. Louis Soltren said he was sitting outside his Mott Haven apartment building one evening, dressed in a suit, drinking a Gatorade, taking a rest in the open air after a long day of work. That’s when a police officer approached him.

I pulled out my ID,” Soltren remembered. “The guy actually refused to see my ID. Instead of treating me like a human being, he treated me like an animal.

The officer ordered Soltren to take off his shoes and place his hands against the wall of his apartment building.

I look way different than what certain drug dealers look like,” said Soltren, a 31-year-old Spanish and Italian resident of the Bronx. “I still fall in that category. The way I see it is because of my Hispanic race.”

The New York Civil Liberties Union estimates that police stopped on average about 1,900 people per day in 2011. The policy allows an officer to stop a person for a variety reasons, including walking suspiciously or having a suspicious bulge. The data shows that 88 percent of those stopped were not charged with anything.

Police records show that in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx, where Soltren has lived for 24 years, officers stopped and frisked residents 17,690  times – the fourth highest number in New York City.

Over half of the survey participants said they had been stopped. One-third of them admitted it happened more than once.

“One-hundred-one times I have been stopped by cops,” said Joys Reid, 53, a life-long Hunts Point resident, standing across the street from his apartment on Hoe avenue. “Everyday we get picked up for nothing.”

Of those interviewed, 77 percent said they opposed the practice.

“Stop and frisk I don’t think is going to stop anything because it hasn’t,” said Terrence Wilkerson, 36, a Highbridge resident for 30 years.

“Stop and frisk is borderline racism,” Wilkerson added.

The Bronx Ink poll reflects a greater trend among Black and Hispanic residents. According to a Quinnipiac University survey, 69 percent of Black voters and 53 percent of Hispanic voters disapproved of stop and frisk. In New York City overall, registered voters are split on the policy: 50 percent against, 45 percent for, and 5 percent undecided.

Only five of the people we spoke to supported the policy, two of whom were Hispanic.“I think it’s great. It’s extremely important,” said Robert Flores, 45, a Fordham resident. “I know a lot of people are against it but I feel that it needs to happen. Within this community, we are the only people robbing each other.”

Overwhelmingly, those surveyed said more positive police involvement in their community would prevent unnecessary stops. “If they see the same people everyday, they should know the community,” Peter Lorenzi, 19, a criminal justice major at Berkeley College said. “They should know people around them.”

Click on photos to hear their stories.


Additional reporting by Ana Ionova, Andrew Freedman, Annaliese Wiederspahn, Coleen Jose, Jan Hendrik Hinzel, Jika González, Kenny Suleimanagich, Margaret Badore, Natasha Lindstrom, Sadef A. Kully, Selase Kove-Seyram, Sonia Paul, Valentine Pasquesoone, Vidur Malik and Yi Du.


Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Featured, Morrisania, Multimedia, North Central Bronx, Northwest Bronx, Sizing up Stop and Frisk, Southern Bronx, Special ReportsComments (2)

Stop-and-Frisk Goes on Trial

Judge Shira Scheindlin of the Manhattan federal court today begins hearing allegations that the NYPD has been unlawfully stopping minorities under its stop-and-frisk program, reports The New York Post.

A Columbia professor who has analyzed stop-and-frisk data and a representative of the Bronx District Attorney’s office, which has refused to prosecute some trespassing cases without first interviewing the arresting officers, are expected to testify for the plaintiffs.

Click here for the BronxInk’s special report on residents views of stop-and-frisk procedures in the Bronx.



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Bronx District Attorney Curbs Stop-and-Frisk Abuses

Angelo Meneses, 17, protested the New York City Police Department’s Stop and Frisk policies at a rally held by the New York Civil Liberties Union at City Hall. (JIKA GONZALEZ/ The Bronx Ink)

The Bronx District Attorney’s office became the first in the city to openly question the validity of some stop-and-frisk arrests, by requiring police officers to verify each one in person before charges are rendered.

In the past, arresting police officers had to fill out a sworn statement and routine paperwork. Now, officers will now also have to prove under questioning that the suspect was not a resident or an invited guest in the housing project. The policy has been in place in the Bronx since July, as first reported by the New York Times.

“It’s a great step and it shows that the community pressure can no longer be ignored,” said Jose La Salle, a community organizer with Stop Stop & Frisk, a police reform advocacy group. “People don’t really know yet, but it’s up to the community to let the community know.”

The policy’s objective is to “seek the truth” and give prosecutors a better understanding of the cases before they lay charges, said Steven Reed, spokesperson for the Bronx District Attorney Robert T. Johnson.

“When we don’t have the ability to question the officer as to the specifics, we don’t always get the complete picture of what occurred,” he wrote in an email to the BronxInk.org.

Reed also said his office discussed the policy with other district attorneys and with police before it was implemented. He declined to comment further due to ongoing litigation.

Legal and community advocates in the Bronx responded with guarded relief. “The Bronx District Attorney’s Office found what we have seen on the ground for years–a pattern of unlawful arrests resulting from the NYPD’s policies that target young men of color,” said Robin Steinberg, executive director of The Bronx Defenders, a non-profit legal aid organization.

Police data shows that young black men represent 26 percent of NYPD stops, but only 2 percent of the city’s population. Latino men make up 16 percent of the stops, but only 3 percent of the city’s population.

“It’s about time that a prosecutor finally had the courage to stand up to the NYPD,” Steinberg said.

Numbers from August show misdemeanor trespassing cases in the Bronx have dropped by almost 25 percent, which suggests the new policy may be having a dramatic effect.  Total trespass arrests have also declined in the Bronx since this time last year, dropping by more than 38 percent.

In other boroughs like Manhattan and Brooklyn, the number of cases declined by only 5 percent since last August. In Queens, trespass arrests actually saw an increase over the same time frame.

District attorneys in the other four boroughs have not commented on Johnson’s policy change.

Community activists hope the other boroughs will follow suit.  Bronx prosecutors “are starting to see that they can’t stand behind the NYPD,” said Andrea Ritchie, a civil rights attorney with Streetwise & Safe. “They don’t want to waste their time prosecuting people for no reason.”

The move is a step in the right direction, said Tomasina Sams Riddick, co-founder of the Black Law Enforcement Alliance, a nonprofit civil rights group that advocates fair law enforcement practices for people of color. She said the move highlights the current need to execute stop-and-frisk “appropriately” and puts more responsibility on police to arrest with a reason.

FURTHER READING: Sounding Off Stop and Frisk: Bronx Ink reporters fanned out over 12 neighborhoods last week to capture the stories and thoughts from Bronx residents about law enforcement tactics.


Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Former Featured, Front Page, Housing, Sizing up Stop and FriskComments (1)

District attorney’s office curbs prosecutions from police stop-and-frisk arrests

The Bronx district attorney’s office has stopped prosecuting people arrested for trespassing at public housing projects, unless the arresting officer can prove in person that the arrest was warranted, the New York Times reports.

This policy has been in place since July, when prosecutors realized that many people arrested for trespassing were not guilty. Often, police officers wrote statements that said the opposite.

It is the first time that a city district attorney’s office has publicly questioned arrests resulting from stop-and-frisk tactics.

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Protest at Richard Haste trial

Bronxites Protest Police Violence

Protest at Richard Haste trial

The manslaughter trial of  47th Precinct officer Richard Haste stirs anger over police profiling outside the court. (MARIANA IONOVA/ The Bronx Ink)

A crowd gathered in front of the Bronx Supreme Criminal Court Thursday to protest police violence during a trial hearing for Richard Haste, a Bronx police officer charged with the shooting death of an unarmed 18-year-old Ramarley Graham inside his home earlier this year.

More that 50 people chanted, sang songs and held up signs outside the 161st Street courthouse that read, “Richard Haste, you can’t hide,” and “When will it stop?”

Graham was killed on Feb. 2, after Haste chased him inside his Wakefield home, shooting and killing him while his grandmother and his 6-year-old brother looked on. Before the incident, a street narcotics team had been monitoring a nearby bodega where they spotted Graham and two others. Suspecting that he had a gun, the officers followed him home, forced the door open and entered without a warrant.

Moments later, Haste fired a single shot, killing Graham in his bathroom as he was trying to flush some marijuana down the toilet. No gun was recovered from the home.

Haste has pled not guilty to first- and second-degree manslaughter charges.

During Thursday’s hearing, Haste’s defense team won a trial postponement until the police and prosecution can provide documents that show why police believed Graham was armed.

The brief court proceeding was packed with press and family, friends and supporters of both Graham and Haste yesterday. Afterwards, Graham’s family held a brief conference outside the courthouse.

“We are going to do what we need to do to keep his memory alive and also fight for justice. We will never stop,” said Franclot Graham, Ramarley’s father as he stood beside Constance Malcolm, the victim’s mother.

A small group of family members and community supporters later gathered in front of the 47th precinct with signs and whistles, rallying against police violence and its stop-and-frisk policies.  Some of the protesters had buttons condemning the search tactic while others wore t-shirts printed with the words, “UC my hands. No Gun. Why did you shoot?” Similar rallies were planned at precincts across the Bronx.

Tomasina Sams Riddick, co-founder of the civil rights organization Black Law Enforcement Alliance, said police violence plaguing Black and Hispanic communities is, at its core, racially motivated.

“You can’t Google a white person murdered by police,” she told protesters. “It is people of color. So we must continue our fight.”

Activists also said police violence is on the rise, citing last week’s killing of Reynaldo Cuevas, a 20-year-old bodega worker who was shot by officers as he was running away from an armed robbery. His death stirred widespread criticism and is currently under investigation.

“A lot of people are angry that this keeps happening,” said Malcolm, who has responded to her son’s killing by founding Ramarley’s Call, an organization dedicated to seeking justice for Graham and fighting against police violence.

David Vaughan, Graham’s former tutor also spoke at the rally, describing his student as an educated young man beyond his years and condemning the circumstances around his death.

“You don’t know what dream you’re killing when you do something like this,” Vaughan said.

The family said they would continue holding vigils until they see justice being served in court. Ramarley’s Call currently organizes vigils and rallies every second Thursday in a bid to preserve Graham’s memory and to remind the community of his death.

Haste was the first city officer charged in an on-duty shooting since 2007, when the high profile shooting of Sean Bell led to charges against three detectives. The officers were acquitted in 2008 but were later dismissed from the force.

Court proceedings in the Haste case will resume Dec. 11.

Mariana Ionova can be contacted via email at mi2300@columbia.edu or on Twitter.

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Critical reviews from the Bronx on stop and frisk

According to a New York Times public opinion poll, a significant majority of New Yorkers believe the New York Police Department’s stop and frisk policy disproportionally targets blacks and Hispanics. The policy allows police officers to stop and search people they consider suspicious as part of a larger effort to reduce crime.

In the Bronx, several residents claim the strategy traumatizes those who are searched, and prevents them from wanting to trust the police. Their views mirror a larger consensus among New Yorkers featured in a recent multimedia presentation.

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