Queer Youth of Color Complain of West Village Stop and Frisk

Sitting on the West Village piers on a sunny Friday afternoon, Tamir Tanner scowled when the New York City Police Department (NYPD) practice of stopping and frisking was mentioned.

“It’s just not fair,” the 27-year-old said. “It’s really not fair to anybody to be stopped and frisked.”

Tanner estimated that he had been stopped by police in the Sixth Precinct, which patrols Manhattan’s West Village, about 10 times in July of last year.

“They rolled past,” Tanner said. “I guess I looked suspicious to them… I started to feel like they had a problem with me.”

According to a report by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), police stopped and frisked 685,724 people citywide in 2011. Fifty-three percent of those stopped were African-American and 34 percent were Latino. They were also disproportionately young and male. Police stopped and frisked 97,296 people in 2002.

While there were relatively few stops and frisks in the Sixth Precinct in 2011 — just 2,954 — 76.6 percent of those stopped were African-American and Latino. Just eight percent of the residents in that precinct are African-American or Latino, so it is apparent who the police are stopping — the queer youth of color who enjoy hanging out in the West Village and who have been the subject of complaints by some residents there.

“We do know that a lot of our constituency… are stopped in the West Village,” said Ellen Manny Vaz, the communications director at FIERCE, a group that organizes among LGBT youth of color. “These numbers are not surprising. They definitely coincide with what our members are reporting.”

The NYPD, which did not respond to an email seeking comment, has argued that stop and frisk is a necessary anti-crime strategy that has contributed to New York City’s low crime rates. Part of the police rationale for the practice is that it deters those who may carry a weapon because they fear that weapon will be found during a stop and frisk.

The NYCLU report found that the tactic is producing diminishing returns. In 2003, police recovered 604 guns after stopping and frisking 160,851 people. Stops grew by more than 300 percent in 2011 over 2003, but police recovered 780 guns last year. At 176 more guns than in 2003, that is a 29 percent increase.

The report did not say if any guns were recovered in the Sixth Precinct as the result of stop and frisk. The NYCLU press office could not answer that question.

That stop and frisk is being used in the Sixth Precinct is odd. It has been and remains a low-crime precinct. There was one murder in the Sixth Precinct last year compared to 515 citywide. That precinct reported six rapes in 2011 compared to 1,414 citywide, 44 robberies compared to 19,752 citywide, and 38 felony assaults compared 18,579 citywide.

Opponents of stop and frisk say that beyond violating the rights of those who are stopped, it also alienates people in the communities where it is practiced. There is some evidence of that in the West Village.

“I hate it, I hate it,” said Eliezer Pardo, 32, who was passing time with a friend on one of the West Village piers that jut into the Hudson River. “It makes a lot of us stop coming out here… They don’t treat straight people the way they treat gay people. They harass gay people.”

FIERCE’s Vaz seconded that saying, “It’s not really helping to create safer communities. In fact, it causes negative relationships.”

Pardo said he has prior arrests, and he added that some of the youth who hang out in the West Village do break the law, but, in his view, that does not excuse the NYPD’s use of stop and frisk.

“To be realistic, I can’t blame it all on them because a lot of the people out here, they don’t act right,” he said. “I understand why they do their job, but they take it overboard.”

West Village residents have for years been complaining about the young people of color who hang out there. Efforts to reach an accommodation in 2005 and 2006 made at the local community board were unsuccessful.