(NEW YORK) MintPress — Civil rights advocates have long condemned the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk for unfairly targeting African-Americans and Hispanics. Now, another issue is coming to light — the humiliation of women during street stops.
Twenty-two-year-old Crystal Pope recalls how she and two female friends were frisked by male officers last year in Harlem. The three women were sitting on a bench near Pope’s home when the police pulled up and asked for ID. They said they were looking for a rapist.
“They tapped around the waistline of my jeans,” said Pope. “They tapped the back pockets of my jeans, around my buttock. It was kind of disrespectful and degrading. It was uncalled for. It made no sense. How are you going to stop three females when you are supposedly looking for a male rapist?”
She also said she thought male officers had to call on a female colleague when conducting a frisk. She was wrong, according to Andrea Ritchie, a civil rights lawyer and co-coordinator of Streetwise and Safe (SAS), a nonprofit organization that focuses on police practices affecting young, minority, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Every year, SAS conducts between 20 and 30 “know-your-rights” workshops at community centers around New York City. “Every training we go to, we hear complaints about stop-and-frisk, and we hear women talk about sexual harassment,” said Ritchie. “They say, ‘Isn’t it right that a male officer can’t frisk you?’ ”
She continued, “If a woman believes there is no legal basis for the frisk, then she may feel that she is being groped simply for the officer’s sexual gratification. That’s how women have described it to me.”
Last year, NYPD officers stopped 46,784 women, frisking nearly 16,000. They found guns in just 59 cases, a rate of .12 percent.
That bolsters the argument made by civil liberties groups that the bulk of stop-and-frisk encounters are not legally justified.
“The NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program is fundamentally broken,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “The NYPD is out of control, and the culture and practices of the Department need a full-scale overhaul so that everyone’s fundamental rights are respected and all communities can trust and respect the police.”
According to DNAinfo.com, which analyzed the city’s crime data, while the NYPD stopped and frisked a record 685,724 people last year, 1,821 people were victims of gunfire. That’s nearly the same number as in 2002, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s first year in office, when 1,892 people were shot, but just 97,296 were frisked.
Mayor Bloomberg has defended the program in the past by claiming it has saved thousands of lives. “Nobody should ask (Police Commissioner) Ray Kelly to apologize — and he’s not going to and neither am I for saving 5,600 lives.” he said.
But that number refers to the number of murders, not the total number of people shot. The numbers crunched by DNAinfo compared the numbers of shootings rather than deaths.
Experts say the declining murder rate has been helped by advancements in medicine, on-scene triage by paramedics and emergency room techniques.
Officers in New York are taught in the Patrol Guide to slide their hands over external clothing, focusing on “the waistband, armpit, collar and groin areas.” The training does not distinguish between male and female suspects, according to Police Inspector Kim Royster.
“Yes, it’s intrusive, but wherever a weapon can be concealed is where the officer is going to search,” she said. “Safety has no gender. When you are talking about the safety of an officer, the first thing he or she is going to do is mitigate that threat.”
A search can extend to a woman’s purse because it is considered a “lungeable area,” a place where a person can conceal and easily grab a weapon.
Twenty-four-year-old Ashanti Galloway discovered that the hard way, after an officer rummaged through her bag and pulled out a pair of Victoria’s Secret underwear. “He had my clothes in his hand; it was my panties and my bra,” she recalls. “I was upset. I felt violated. Powerless.”
That is in sharp contrast to TSA protocol: Security officers are not allowed to frisk passengers of the opposite sex during the screening process. “Males pat down males, and females pat down females, that’s the policy,” said TSA spokesman David Castelveter.
TSA policy also dictates, “You should neither be asked to, nor agree to, lift, remove or raise any articles of clothing to reveal a sensitive area of the body, such as the buttocks, groin or breasts. Bare or exposed skin should not be touched by the security officer.”
In New York, it is only after a woman is arrested and brought to a police station that a female officer is summoned to conduct a thorough search.
Inspector Royster argues that it neither safe for male officers to wait for a female officer to arrive nor practical: As of the end of last year, more than 80 percent of officers on patrol were men. Of the more than 22,200 ranked officers, about 4,200 are women.
Perhaps it’s time for the city’s women to take advantage of the recent app unveiled by the NYCLU to helps minorities hold the NYPD accountable for abusive street stops and other misconduct. The Stop-and-Frisk Watch smartphone technology allows users to record stops, receive alerts as to where in the vicinity they are taking place, and report them.
“We will be monitoring the footage and want to use the images and video to shine a spotlight on the stop-and-frisk practice for public education, press outreach, lobbying and potentially even litigation,” explained NYCLU Community Director Jennifer Carnig.
“The idea is to bring accountability for what it looks like and what it feels like. Ninety percent of the people stopped are totally innocent, just walking down the street. So we want to show what that looks and feels like.”