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Tale of Two Cities: New York City and Baltimore Try Similar Tactics with Teens

By Jada Vanderpool

In New York City, where police stopped 532,991 New Yorkers in 2013 and where more than 41 percent of them were young black and Hispanic men aged 14 to 24, they call it “stop and frisk.”

In Baltimore City, where police stopped 147 young people young people during August and September of 2014 and where 128 of them were young black and Hispanic men under age 17, they call it “the youth curfew.”

For some youth, these stops instill an unshakable ideology about cops.

Deandre Smith, a student at Bronx Regional High School, enjoys typical teenage fun like playing basketball, socializing outside with friends and competing with video games. Yet while hanging out, it’s not his mother and her rules he hopes to avoid, but the police.

Smith, a Bronx native, said he feels “how every average black male feels about cops.”

This 16-year-old’s negative reaction stems from an unpleasant experience with New York police while taking the train home.

“I was with my friends, we hopped the train and someone had drugs on them,” he said.” So they took all of us to the station.”

One of the boys was thrown to the ground.

Smith, 15 at the time, was handcuffed and taken to the precinct. But this wasn’t his first time being stopped by the police.

At 14, he was stopped near his neighborhood. “It was like a random stop and frisk,” he said casually.

The teen was with family and friends over 18. Despite his innocence, Smith’s initial thought was, “Oh god, don’t tell my mother.”

Smith says he has been stopped five times. “You just grow to not like cops more and more.”

According to a 2011 WNYC analysis, police stopped more than 120,000 teens that year. Eighty six percent of those frisked were Latino and black.

In the 1976 case, People v. De Bour, state court judges in New York narrowed down what is permissible for a stop-and-frisk to four levels. Level one allows an officer to request information if there is credible reason to do so (not always criminal related activity); level two allows for more intrusion if criminal activity is around; level three allows an officer to physically stop or detain a person if there is suspicion criminal activity is involved; and level four authorizes arrests if there is probable reason to believe a person has committed a crime.

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) documented that police stopped New Yorkers 532,991 times in 2013. In total, 473,644 of those stopped were innocent, and 284,229 were African Americans.

The NYCLU also reported that in 2011, African American and Hispanic young men between 14 and 24 accounted for 41.6 percent of all stops that year. Ninety percent were innocent.

In 2008, four minority residents of the city filed a class action lawsuit asserting that the NYPD was conducting unconstitutional stops. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed the lawsuit Floyd vs. The City of New York.

In October 2013, after a 10-week trial with testimony from NYPD officers and a dozen people who were wrongly stopped, the court ruled many stops were unconstitutional and ordered a federal monitor to oversee police stops.

Though Smith says he’s noticed a change in stops since the trial, it still does not change his views of the police.

“I don’t feel safe around the cops.”


One hundred and seventy miles away, Baltimore teens expressed a similar distrust of police.

“I hate the police,” said Britany Smith, 14. “It’s like a whole bunch of racism. I hate it. I love army people, I love everybody, except for the police.”

Though she has not been stopped while alone, she recalls a time when her mother was stopped while driving. “They were being real rude. My mother was trying to get her stuff out and they were yelling at her, telling her to hurry up.”

More vividly, she remembered her uncle being stopped and bombarded. “One time my uncle was down the street and they beat the crap out of him for no reason,” she alleged.

According to a 2012 Baltimore Sun article, Maryland State Police conducted 120,000 stop and frisk searches that year. Of 90,000 reported, only 494 involved searches. In those searches nine guns were found.

In September 2013, Baltimore police announced they would change the term “stop and frisk” to “investigative stops” due to the negative connotations on the heels of New York’s stop-and-frisk lawsuit.

Yet the guidelines are similar; officers are allowed to search someone if there is reasonable suspicion.

Smith tries to stay below the radar with police by staying off the streets late and following Baltimore’s teen curfew.

“If I’m outside, they’ll say, ‘why you outside? It’s a school night,’’’ she said. “But I’ve never been caught after curfew.”

“I have a lot of responsibilities so I can’t just be outside.”

Unlike New York, Baltimore has a curfew; and one of the strictest in the nation. Teens aged 14 to 17 have to be in the house before 10 p.m. on weekdays at 11 p.m. on weekends.

According to Councilman Brandon Scott, officers are to stop youth and ask for their ID to determine their age. If they are within curfew age, officers call a curfew officer to take them to the curfew center to be interviewed.

Staffers at the curfew center call parents and guardians of the child to pick them up. If a parent does not pick up a child from the center, the children are sent to Children Protection Services (CPS).

On weeknights, when the center is closed, children are taken straight home. If children are toddler aged or younger, they are sent to the CPS.

But Akiyah Branch, 14, wasn’t keen on the curfew or the police. “On the weekends I stay out until 11–but the curfew is 10-o clock now. – I don’t like that.”

Branch continues her nights out late and avoids officers. “Most of the time I just run, because I know they’re going to try and get me. I know they’ve seen my face a couple of times,” she said. “They chase you and run around, but it’s a lot of cuts around here.” Baltimore city

Councilmember Brandon Scott, who created the new curfew, said police are not to chase after youth who run.

“There is real fear that, by giving police officers unfettered discretion to stop any young-looking person after 9 p.m. and demand I.D., this law will devolve into stop-and-frisk for kids, or worse,” said Sonia Kumar, staff attorney for the ACLU-MD.

“This is the same police force that community members have said they don’t trust and that has been involved in several tragic losses of life in the last year alone,” Kumar continued.

The first time Branch was stopped by the police was in fifth grade.

“Me and Dejuan [a classmate] use to always climb on our school roof,” said Branch. “Then one day the cops was on the roof across, and someone called the police. It was us and a couple of other friends. They tried to run away and the police was right there. They was crowding around the whole school. Then we came out and we had to put our hands up.”

“They was about to hit us with the nightstick,” she continues. “They told us to do five pushups and then told us to go home…I was crying.”

“I don’t like the police,” she says. “They always trying to get black people for no reason. So when I see the police I just turn my head because I feel like they going to try to stop me just because I’m black.”

For Dejuan Carter, that was not his first run in with the police. He was stopped for curfew at nine years old.

“I was scared,” he says. “I was young and I didn’t know anything about the police. But they just took down my information.”

However it’s not curfew that has made him distrust police, but incidents with officers and his peers he has witnessed.

“They’re [police] the same ones who save your life at the end of the day, but some of them are just crooked,” he alleges.

“Only time I call them is if it’s an emergency and I have to.”


About Karen Houppert

I'm a journalist and also Associate Director of the MA in Writing Program at Johns Hopkins University. I've been writing about menstruation--and a whole lot of other stuff--since the 1990s.

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