Teenagers are harassed and violated in ways you can’t imagine.
Imagine you’re 17 years old. A man with a gun and a badge has stopped you on the street and jammed his hand inside your pants, touching your penis. The girl you have a crush on is watching from nearby. That’s the reality for many young men of color in New York City.
Stop-and-frisk is the controversial policing tactic in which street cops looking for weapons stop and pat down young men. Discussions of this policy in the media most often consist of alarming stats, like what percent of men targeted are black and brown ( 87% in New York) or the breach of constitutional rights the searches entail. But the reality on the ground is far less abstract. The policy amounts to a constant disruption of the lives of hundreds of thousands of young black and brown men. It’s a belittling experience that could be better described as sexual assault.
I’ve reported on stop and frisk for two years, and in that time I’ve talked to young men who have experienced stop-and-frisk, and the stories they tell are harrowing. A black teenager in Bedford-Stuyvesant described how embarrassed he was to have “old ladies” watch as his pants landed around his ankles while police searched him. A 17-year-old in the Bronx explained that police, “They go in my pants. You’re not supposed to go in my pants.” Being touched by a female police officer can be especially upsetting for adolescent males. “It’s annoying because it doesn’t matter what kind of cop it is, female or male, they’re gonna frisk you. If you say something to the female about it, the female says something to you like ‘What? I can do what I want.’ And they still frisk you. You can’t say sexual harassment, nothing,” 18-year-old South Bronx resident Garnell told me last year, adding, “And they go hard, grabbing stuff they’re not supposed to.”
A New York attorney told me last year he has video of a cop saying he just “credit card-swiped” a man’s ass — without gloves, naturally. What kind of gun can fit between two butt cheeks? And why are cops touching penises, anyway? The answer is simple: They’re not looking for guns, but hoping to make arrests. While stop-and-frisk is only legally allowed for the purpose of uncovering weapons, it has been linked to far more low-level summonses and pot busts than guns. As 18-year-old Lower East resident “Twin” recently told me, “They run their hands down your ass crack because they think you’re hiding drugs there.” In the public housing on Baruch Street, he says police hang out until they see someone “suspicious” enough to grope.