Posted on May 23, 2008

Police Make Life Hell for Youth of Color

Kathy Durkin, Axis of Logic (New York), May 17, 2008

Going to the grocery store, visiting a friend and walking home from work or school are all ordinary, everyday occurrences. But not so for hundreds of thousands of people, mostly from African-American and Latino communities, who are stopped, questioned, asked for their I.D., searched and often arrested here in New York—and around the country. It happens to many youth and even to children.


In the first quarter of this year, New York City police, by their own report, stopped, questioned and/or searched 145,098 people, more than half of them African Americans. At this alarming rate, a record 600,000 people will be stopped this year.

In the last two years, nearly 1 million New Yorkers were harassed by police in this manner—90 percent of them people of color. That’s 1,300 a day. And it’s legally allowed.

These operations, just in the past two years, have put more than 1 million innocent people, mostly African-American and Latino, into the huge police database; they are subject to future criminal investigations merely by their inclusion there.

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) is challenging the legality of these potentially discriminatory practices and demanding information on the database kept by the NYPD—which the department refuses to turn over. It contains personal information on everyone stopped by police, though the vast majority—90 percent—have not been charged with any crimes.


Another aspect of the NYPD’s racial profiling scheme is the campaign of terror targeting youth for possessing miniscule amounts of marijuana. This, too, usually happens in communities of color, even though social studies show a higher rate of marijuana use among white youth. ( In 2007 alone, police arrested more than 100 people per day, or 39,700 in total, for this so-called crime.


Since decriminalization in 1977, the possession of a small amount of marijuana has not constituted a “crime” in New York City—as long as it is not shown in public. Possession since then has been merely a “violation,” such as speeding and other traffic infractions.

However, the police frequently stop Black and Latino youth and then arrest them on the charge of misdemeanor possession—when, most of the time, this is not the case. High school students are kept in jail overnight until they go to court. Then they are pressured into a plea bargain, usually with an overworked, court-appointed attorney representing them.


It is well known that there is serious drug abuse in many high-pressure professions in this city, yet the police don’t occupy financial centers or carry out random searches in wealthy neighborhoods.

Rafael Mutis, coordinator of 7 Neighborhood Action Partnership Network, which works to repeal the draconian New York State Rockefeller drug laws, explains that “drug use” has become a pretext for stop-and-frisk searches in low-income neighborhoods. “They don’t go after people on Wall Street,” he said, “where there’s a daily snowstorm” of cocaine use. (


All progressive people need to show solidarity with the oppressed communities, especially the youth, in this struggle against police repression.