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Police Targeting Minorities in the United States: Stop and Frisk

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Abstract:

In this paper “Polices Targeting Minorities in the United States”, there are two different polices that will discussed. The first policy is Stop and Frisk and the second is the 3-strike law, these policies are made were decrease crime and violence but by doing so it has targeted minorities. Stop and frisk is a policy in which the police can stop someone they find suspicious. With the 3-strike law, it gives people harsh sentences for small misdemeanors and it is the reason why Louisiana has high incarceration rates. What I wanted to figure out is what factors lead to someone becoming targeted by these polices. Through research, I concluded that racial profiling and stereotypes play a huge factor within these policies because it is targeting people based on the how they look like and the color of their skin. It is making them out to be criminals and increasing the number of minorities that continue to be incarcerated.

Introduction:

On the news we hear about the shooting of a black man by police. The reason behind it is because they thought the suspect had a weapon and we later find out that the suspect was unarmed. The life of someone’s son, father, brother was lost. That is not the only thing that Minorities like African Americans and Latino men face. Many of the policies that are created target African Americans and Latinos. In school and through documentaries like “13th” directed by Ava DuVernay and composed by Jason Moran in 2016, we learn that African Americans have the highest incarceration rates followed by Latino men. Through more statistics and research, we see that minorities have the highest rates of incarceration than white people. To find out why we have to look into the polices that are made. Some are made to keep order in society, but target people based on the color of their skin and appearance or are set up to keep minorities incarcerated like the 3-strike law.

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I believe that racism is still very much alive today. Although laws have changed, some people have still held on to their racist beliefs. For example, one might often see a person holding tightly onto their belongings when a colored person is around and sometimes they even try to avoid this individual by moving their seat or crossing the street. In addition, we have seen videos that have gone viral through social media like Fakebook, Instagram, and Twitter of police officers using excessive force on a black man or women in order to put handcuffs on. In these videos you can see that the person being arrested is not being violent, however, the officers are still resorting to excessive force. There are times in these situations where we see a victim get shot because the officer was afraid they had a weapon. This is due to the image that society has created of minorities, which labels them as dangerous individuals. Statistics and research has shown that minorities are the group that is mostly targeted by police and by the policies that are created. For example, an officer could see an African American or Latino hanging out in the streets and because they fit this stereotype the officer could possibly associate them to violence and crime.

Policies:

A policy that targets minorities is known as Stop and frisk. Stop and frisk is a policy in which police officers can stop a person and ask them questions because they seem “suspicious.” This policy gives police officers the right to stop and search anyone, yet the only people who are being stopped are either African American or Latino. Racial profiling and stereotypes play a huge role in procedures such as Stop and Frisk. Racial profiling is “any arbitrary police- initiated action based on race, ethnicity, or natural origin rather than a person’s behavior (Schaefer, 2011).” Stereotypes is defined as “unreliable, exaggerated generalizations about all members of a group that do not take individuals into account (Schaefer, 2011)”. Although laws and policies are created to keep society in order, some procedures such as the Stop and frisk act against people of color which could lead to them to becoming targets of police brutality and in some cases even losing their life.

Another policy is known as the three-strike law, which is when someone commits a felony more than once they are given harsher punishments. In the “10 years or life” podcast, Reporters Eve Abrams and Laura Starecheski, use the story of Prince Albert who is serving a sentence of 7 years. Following in his father’s footsteps, Prince served in the navy and while serving he hurt his back and was discharged. The accident that prince suffered caused him to be in pain and he was prescribed pain medication, but unfortunately became addicted and started experimenting with different drugs. This addiction caused Prince to be arrested a couple of times and because of this he now had a record that included drug charges. In the podcast, Abrams and Starecheski stated that when “Someone gets arrested for drugs, with the first strike they could face 4 years. For the second strike they could face 10 years and then for the third strike they could face a life sentence (2018, 10 years or life)”. The 3-strike law has played a role in the high incarceration rates in Louisiana and it is what keeps people away from their family and loved ones. This law has been used by Leon Cannizzaro, a district attorney in Louisiana, more than 2,600 times as far as the public knows. Cannizzaro does not want to share the actual number of how many people he has locked up using the 3-strike law.

Furthermore, in the podcast it was stated that after the third strike, “They were considered unfit for society and forced to do hard labor for life (2018, 10 years to life)”. This law targets minorities because it is being enforced mostly on African Americans compared to any other race. When this law was first introduced John Bard stated that the convict was portrayed as a “scary African man” (2018, 10 years or life). This gave the impression that African Americans were not seen as individuals that can change and the people who were not seen fit for change were thrown in to prison. This made prisons and jails “a place for storage and forced labor” (2018, 10 years or life).

Statistics:

Data collected in 2011, showed that police stopped Black and Latino people 574,483 times and used physical force against them almost 130,000 times (Lenehan, 2017). The stop and frisk policy is discriminatory against people of color because of who is stop and the motive behind it. Research has shown that there is a higher number of African American people stopped, part of the reason is because of the way they are portrayed. Many of these individuals are usually innocent.

This is the annual Stop and Frisk Data collected from New York Civil Liberties Union. As we look at the chart, the data collected shows the highest number of stops by police was in 2011. Out of the 685,724 people stopped 605, 328 were innocent. 350,743 were African American and 223, 740 were Latino. From 2002 to 2017 you can see that the number of people stopped due to the stop and frisk policy decreased, but these numbers still showed that the majority of the people being stopped were African American and Latinos. In 2018 out of the 11,008 stops that were made by police. 7,645 were innocent, 6,241 were African American, and 3,389 were Latino (2019, Stop-and-Frisk Data).

In the United States, African Americans make up most of the people who are incarcerated followed by Latinos and then whites. In the NAACP Criminal Justice Fact sheet it states that “In 2014, African Americans constituted 2.3 million, or 34%, of the total 6.8 million correctional population” (Criminal Justice Fact Sheet). The 3-strike law is the cause into Louisiana having the highest number of incarcerated people. The NAACP Criminal Justice Fact sheet also states that “African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites (Criminal Justice Fact sheet)”. In the podcast “10 years or life”, many of the people who were faced with harsh sentences were forced to sign papers that falsely claimed they were not forced or threaten to sign any plea deals. These plea deals consisted of a certain amount of time behind bars or a life sentence (2018, 10 years to life).

Kenneth Johnstin also known as “Biggy”, who served time behind bars stated that while serving his time he would pick cotton and if the prisoners did not reach a certain amount they would be sent to the hole. During slavery, African Americans were forced to do harsh labor and were considered property. Johnstin was facing this same treatment in the 1970’s, long after slavery had ended. During his time behind bars, Biggy noticed men were being charged 100 to 200 years behind bars over small crimes. It is stated in the podcast that, “Biggie did an analysis and found that the vast majority of guys who were prosecuted under this law were black (2018, 10 years to life)”.

This can also be seen in Prince Albert’s case because it shows that minorities are still targeted by laws. Prince Albert did not get help for his addiction which meant that he would eventually be arrested again for drugs. If someone with an addiction to drugs were caught by police once, they will most likely be caught again, which quickly adds up to 3 strikes. The NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet points out that, “African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is almost 6 times that of whites (Criminal Justice Fact sheet)”. It also states that “African Americans represent 12.5% of illicit drug users, but 29% of those arrested for drug offenses and 33% of those incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses (Criminal Justice Fact sheet)”. Prince Albert became part of the number of African Americans who have become victims of the 3-strike law.

Racial Profiling and Stereotypes:

When someone becomes labeled, they are given a bad image based on who they hang out with, where they live and their appearance. Someone who is labeled can start to believe that they are what people perceive them to be. This could often lead them to go down the wrong path. This is known as the labeling theory. The labeling theory is “The idea that deviance is a consequence of external judgements, or labels, that modify the individual’s self-concept and change the way others respond to the labeled person (Ferris & Stein, 2016, pg.158).” An example of the labeling theory is seen in Victor Rios “Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys”. Rios had studied Tyrell and Jose for three years. Tyrell was African American, and Jose was Latino. Both Jose and Tyrell were labeled due to their appearance and actions. Tyrell, for example, was labeled as a threat, his teachers and even the police felt threaten by him because of the way he looked. Rios states “He also became a target of constant police surveillance and random checks for drugs or criminal suspicions (Rios, 2011, pg. 39).” According to Rios “Over the course of three years, I watched or heard from Tyrell about being stopped by police twenty-one times, more than any other youth in this study. Most of the time, these stops ended with just a short conversation. But sometimes, police officers seemed threatened by Tyrell, and they either handcuffed him, pulled a gun on him, or put him in the patrol car (Rios, 2011, pg. 39)” [From my own paper]. Police officers were using an excessive force against Tyrell because of the way he looked, and he was most likely searched because they thought he had drugs, a weapon, or he had done something wrong. In the report of Stop-and-Frisk in the De Blasio era (2019) we see how many stops were made based on race.

The report shows African American and Latino men having the highest number of stops compared to white males and other races. In the same reading by Victor Rios “Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys”, Rios also talks about Jose, the Latino boy who was labeled “Bad” when he started a fire in a garbage can when he was eight years old. He never received the help we wanted from the police. When asked for help the police officer shrugged him off and told him he had better things to do, which led him to join a gang in order to have a form of protection [From my own paper]. The actions of police made Tyrell and Jose feel like they could not trust police because they were already viewed a certain way by them, so they would not have protection by police even if they needed it.

Another example of this is seen in “Guilty by Association Acting White or Acting Lawful?” by Victor Rios. In this part Victor Rios talks about J.T. Although J.T is a good student and does his best to stay out of trouble, he is still targeted by police. The reason behind this is because when he would hang out with his friends, the police associated J.T as to a delinquent boy. This is seen when Rios states that “I found that despite having the skills to navigate between two worlds, the non-delinquent boys often found themselves in a Catch-22: even when they followed the rules, authority figures still criminalized the boys because they lived amongst the delinquent boys (Rios, 2011, pg. 88)” [From my old paper].

There is no policy involved with these stories, but we are able to see how labeling and believing in stereotypes can lead to someone being targeted by police. Through the experiences that Tyrell, Jose and J.T go through we see that they are people who have had encounters with police because of the way they look, the area they are around, where they live and who they hang out with. These factors that they have no control over and somehow makes them become targeted by police.

The Stop and Frisk policy allows an officer to randomly stop you, it could happen at any moment, for example, when a parent is with their child, walking down the street, on your way to work or even out with friends. Minorites are racially profiled because of the color of their skin and are also stereotyped. Racial Profiling and stereotypes play an important role in these polices because most of the people who are stopped have not done anything wrong but because they look a certain way, they are automatically seen as criminals.

The Stop and Frisk policy creates a controversy because it has been called out for its discrimination against minorities. Research has shown that people who are stopped by police officers is due to the way they may act, the way they walk or how they try to avoid the police. Data collected has shown that the number of African American and Latinos are higher than the number of whites and other races who were stopped. 74.4% of Blacks and Latinos were stopped because of “A matter of officers’ discretion while 65.9% who were stopped were white. When it comes to stopping someone for “furtive movements”, 52.4% were blacks and Latinos while 44.5% were white (Lenehan, 2017).

Most of the people who fall victims to these polices are due to the racial profiling and stereotypes that are made because of the way they look. Many of the people who are targeted are innocent, but they are stopped because they fit the profile of a suspect. Some of the reasons why people are possibly stopped is seen in the “Stop-and-Frisk in the De Blasio era (2019)”.

The 3-strike law plays a role in the Louisiana having the highest incarceration rates because of the harsh punishments that are given to individuals over small misdemeanors like stealing. In the podcast 10 years or life, it is stated that the law targets African Americans. It is also said that “Leon Cannizzaro the district attorney uses the law to hammer them” (2018, 10 years or life) and that “It could give the person who is being accused 20 years to life” (2018, 10 years or life).

The Wrongfully Accused:

The case of Floyd v. City of New work is also an important factor in how the stop and frisk policy target African American people and other minorities. David Floyd fell into the group of victims who are racially profiled by police, simply by just being outside. By fighting this policy, he was a representation for Black and Latino New Yorkers “who have been stopped without any cause on their way to work or home from school, in front of their house, or just walking down the street” (Floyd v. City of New York). The judge was Shira Scheindlin, who ruled that “that stop-and-frisk in New York City had been racially discriminatory, violating both the Fourth Amendment and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment” (Lenehan, 2017).

“I feel like I’m still in jail…I feel like I was robbed of my happiness”, these are the words of Kalief Browder who was an African American man accused of hitting and robbing someone when he was sixteen years old. His story is important to discuss because the criminal justice system failed him. Kalief Browder was walking down the street with a friend after coming from a party when he was stopped by police because he fit the description of the perpetrator. Although Kalief Browder said he was innocent, the police officer came back with a new story from the victim that “The robbery had taken place two weeks before (Gonnerman, 2014)”. Browder was then handcuffed and taken to the precinct along with his friend. Eventually his friend was let go, but due to Kalief’s probation the judge ordered him to be held and set a bail for 3,000 dollars which his family was could not afford (Gonnerman, 2014). Kalief Browder spent three years behind bars without being convicted of a crime. The torment and suffering Kalief Browder went through impacted his livelihood in many ways that he was unable to deal with and led him to end his life on June 6, 2015.

The criminal justice system did not only fail Kalief Browder, but many other people. This is seen in chapter 15 of “Evicted: Poverty and profit in the American city” by Matthew Desmond. He talks about two girls, Crystal and Trisha, who become friends. Crystal lives in the apartment below Trisha and her partner Chris, crystal and Arleen who is her roommate can hear Trisha being beaten up by Chris during the night. Crystal calls the police while Arleen says she does not care and covers her ears with a pillow. Due to the constant calling of 911 and police always heading to the building which they live in, they threaten the landlord with “Nuisance activities”. These nuisance’s property citations often result from noise complaints or domestic violence incidents (Desmond, 2016). They also tell the landlord that she can face a heavy fine or jail time (Desmond, 2016). The police in this situation, did not do much to help Trisha, instead, they saw it as an annoyance and failed to provide Trisha with a form of security. Which could have made her feel like she did not have anyone to turn to for help, because if the people who are suppose to protect her, fail her, then who will help her?

Conclusion:

Overall, there are polices that are made which target minorities such as African Americans and Latinos. Evidence to show it has been seen through the statistics that show how minorities make up most of the incarceration rates and have the highest number of stops in the stop and frisk policy. Most of the people who were stopped were innocent. In the 10 years or life reporters Eve Abrams and Laura Starecheski talk to different people who agree that the 3-strike law was targeting African American and was the reason behind the high number of incarceration rates in Louisiana. Many of these minorities become targets of these policies because of racial profiling and stereotypes. Factors like racial profiling and stereotypes can often lead to police brutality. We see how racial profiling and stereotypes can affect a person through Tyrell, Jose and J.T. They were stopped by police and were seen like they were bad people because of how they looked, the area they lived around, and the people they hang out with. These are the things that make African Americans and Latinos target. Police can use excessive force when it comes to handling minorities and we have seen that through different videos on the internet which we show how they are punched, kicked and beaten while being handcuffed. Racial Profiling and stereotypes can lead to someone being accused for a crime that they did not commit, we see this in the stories of David Floyd and Kalief Browder. We see how the criminal justice system not only failed them, but also see it through Trisha in “Evicted: Poverty and profit in the American city” by Matthew Desmond. This only builds tension between police and minorities because they feel like the police cannot be trusted and they are not there to protect them but instead target them because of their skin color and appearance.

Bibliography

Ava DuVernay & Jason Moran. (2016) 13TH. USA

Criminal Justice Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet/

Desmond, M. (2016). Evicted: Poverty and profit in the American city. New York: Crown.

Ferris, K., & Stein, J. (2016). The real world an introduction to sociology. New York: W. W. Norton.

Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ccrjustice.org/home/what-we-do/our-cases/floyd-et-al-v-city-new- york-et-al

Gonnerman J. (2014). Before the Law Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/10/06/before-the-law

Lenehan, R. (n.d.). What ‘Stop-and-Frisk’ really means. Retrieved from https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/stopandfrisk.html

Rios, V. M. (2011). Punished: Policing the lives of Black and Latino boys. New York: New York University Press.

Rosas E. (2019). Week 6 Essay- [From my old paper]

Schaefer, R. T. (2011). Race and ethnicity in the United States. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Stop-and-Frisk in the de Blasio Era (2019). (2019, March 26).

Retrieved from https://www.nyclu.org/en/publications/stop-and-frisk-de-blasio-era-2019

Taki Telonidis (Executive Producer). (2018, October 4). 10 years or life [Audio podcast) Retrieved from https://www.revealnews.org/episodes/10-years-or-life/

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