Since I turned 15, I’ve been stopped and frisked by the police over a dozen times. To be honest, I’ve stopped counting. It happens when I’m coming home from school, from friends’ houses, from the store. It’s happened during the day, but it’s more often at night. If I’m out in the street at 9 or 10 o’clock with two or three other friends, there’s a good chance they will stop us. And none of these times have I ever been doing anything illegal or even suspicious.
The police officers come up to you and start patting you down, usually without telling you why. They’ll search your pockets too. If you’re with a girl, they’ll ask a female police officer to pat her down. When you get stopped, you feel like you’re already guilty. The police act like you’re the scum of the earth, and treat you like you’re a criminal before you’ve even done anything. And it’s scary, too, because any sudden move can be seen as provoking them. You have to be very careful about your body language. Unless you’re lucky and someone’s filming the scene, like what happened with Rodney King
, it’s always going to be your word against theirs.
"They don’t teach you how to react to being stopped by the police in school"
You learn not to say anything, either, because if you ask questions they’ll feel like you’re attacking them, and that gives them a reason to be more violent. I have friends who have gotten upset and the next thing you know, the officer says they’re aggressive, and takes them in to the station. They don’t teach you how to react to being stopped by the police in school.
These stops are a big problem for all my friends here in the South Bronx. We feel targeted because of our race, because of the way we dress, because we’re in a neighbourhood where there’s a lot of public housing. I’ve never been stopped when I’m walking in Manhattan! It seems like the police feel that here in the South Bronx, it doesn’t matter if they throw you up against a wall. It’s embarrassing – it happens in public, and people from your neighbourhood see this and assume you’re a hoodlum. It makes you feel like less than everyone else. And if you feel people expect less of you, then you don’t have a standard to live up to – and I think that makes it easier to fall through the cracks.