By Prem Calvin Prashad
New York City is failing in its obligation to include and inform the community on reform of the controversial stop-and-frisk program, activists charged at a town hall earlier this month in South Richmond Hill.
The town hall, hosted by Jackson Heights-based advocacy group Desis Rising Up and Moving, took place Nov. 3 at Khan’s Tutorial, 103-42 Lefferts Blvd. The event was held to inform the community about the Joint Remedial Process—an effort mandated by Manhattan Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin to give affected communities, home to primarily black and Latino men, a voice in the reform process.
The event focused on the experience of community members, such as William Depoo, who is in his early 20s and a leader at DRUM. In addition to being stopped and frisked, he claims to have been detained without cause and called an ethnic slur while in police custody in Queens. He was released without charges. He recounted that incident as being one of several encounters he had with police officers while living in the area.
In attendance were many young people from the community as well as representatives from the office of Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) and students studying community attitudes on policing. Former Associate Justice Ariel E. Belen, who is now the facilitator of the Joint Remedial Process, sent a representative to the Town Hall. Provisions stemming from the stop-and-frisk lawsuits required the cities to have forums such as these, but DRUM has determined the need to hold forums in communities such as South Richmond Hill.
A vocal protester attempted to disrupt the event, citing recent, high-profile shootings of police officers.
“Many believe if someone is stopped by the police, they are either a criminal or did something wrong,” Depoo noted. “We ignore factors such as racial profiling and police abuses, which then makes folks in our communities who do face these factors internalize these experiences.”
Depoo indicated that the recent election of Donald Trump as president would only exacerbate this uncertainty.
To demonstrate what they termed “over-policing” in the neighborhood, organizers cited 2014 statistics that indicate a high number of stops in the predominantly Indo-Caribbean neighborhoods covered by the 102nd and 106th precincts, where there were 1,181 and 2,228 stops, respectively. According to the group, reform would not only include fewer stops and probable cause, but also overall changes to policing in the community.
Though much has been made about the NYPD and communities of color bridging gaps in trust and accountability, Depoo downplayed the necessity of trust in the reform process.
“Stop and frisk and other abusive policing tactics have left a deep scar,” he said. “The NYPD has shown they will use unjust factors, such as race, to patrol and target communities.”
The group has determined its role to be highlighting the voices of community members in the reform process.
Political engagement remains low in the Richmond Hill/Ozone Park area, especially among the Indo-Caribbean community. Activists, such as Depoo, point out that “they (Indo-Caribbean people) left behind turmoil, and they feel if they face any racism or discrimination, it is a compromise for living in this country. In contrast with other community-based organizations that work on political engagement, DRUM places less of an emphasis on the political process, noting that community insight is frequently ignored by elected officials. Rather, the organization seeks to empower residents to become activists.
“We have to work with our communities to understand you don’t need to sacrifice your rights for a better life,” Depoo concluded.