The NYPD’s use of stop and frisk was the topic of the evening Oct. 24 when New Yorkers from all five boroughs testified before the City Council’s Civil Rights Committee at York College in Jamaica.
The hearing came one day after Make the Road New York released a report on alleged abusive policing practices aimed at Jackson Heights’ lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The survey, titled “Transgressive Policing,” found that officers stopped members of Jackson Heights’ LGBT community a disproportionate number of times, particularly transgender people.
The Civil Rights Committee, which held a similar hearing in Brooklyn on Oct. 23, wanted to get more input from the communities most affected by stop and frisk, given that the council is considering a measure called the Community Safety Act.
The package of four bills, which was first introduced in February, would, its backers say, protect New Yorkers from discriminatory profiling and unlawful searches, require officers to identify and explain themselves to the public and establish an NYPD Inspector General Office.
More than 200 residents packed the faculty dining room at York College and dozens shared stories of harassment and arrests. Councilwoman Deborah Rose (D-Staten Island), chairwoman of the committee, called stop and frisk “one of the most pressing civil rights issues of this time.”
While most of the public focus has been on the policy’s impact on racial and ethnic minorities, some in the LGBT community say they too are unfairly targeted by the police.
Two members of Make the Road New York testified about their experiences with the NYPD. Some council members thumbed through the report while listening to testimony.
Divay Mendez, a 44-year-old transgender Latina woman, described, through a translator, how she’d been stopped while walking to a local taqueria late one night in 2008. She said that an officer grabbed her and in the commotion two condoms tucked away in her bra slipped out.
“Before I knew it, the officers forced me onto my knees and arrested me in public view,” Mendez recalled. “[They] ripped my wig off my head and told me I was going to be arrested for prostitution.”
Mendez was arrested for “walking while trans,” according to Make the Road New York’s report, which notes that this has become a common phrase referring to supposedly arbitrary stops of transgender women on suspicion of prostitution.
Another activist, Marlon Castro, a 23-year-old gay Latino man also of Jackson Heights, had his testimony read by a fellow member since he didn’t feel comfortable speaking in person.
Castro’s testimony described an incident six months ago when he and a friend were stopped by police while driving. The officer asked for their IDs. Castro handed over his worn but valid green card, and one of the officers said it was fake. Castro said he politely told the officer it was legal and offered to give him his Social Security number if they wanted to verify it.
“You are a f---ing faggot and no faggot like you is gonna talk to me like that because I am the authority here, and I can take you to jail,” the officer said, according to Castro.
The officer checked his information in the system, Castro said, and then handed back his green card saying, “You AIDS-infested faggot, if I ever see you with this fake ID again I will deport you.”
Both Castro and Mendez ended their testimony by calling for the City Council to pass the Community Safety Act.
The council will review the testimony from both the Queens and Brooklyn hearings, take the time to deliberate and see if any modifications should be made to the proposed legislation before it moves forward.
The exact timeline for a vote on the bills remains unclear.