Chris Arnade Photography

Stopped, Frisked, and Screwed Over

I watched the police run after a young man on Hunts Point Blvd the other day; he fled from the park to his apartment building. The whole street stopped and watched. The older cop, laden down with 40 pounds of equipment, was no match: the teen escaped. Why was he being chased? Marijuana and outstanding warrants. He had accumulated enough possession charges that he decided to run rather than face the cops.

I live in Brooklyn Heights and work on Wall Street but spend my nights photographing Hunts Point. I don’t smoke weed, but plenty of people I know in both of my worlds do.  For my friends from Brooklyn it’s effectively legal; for those from Hunts Point, it’s not.

Twenty-five grams of pot or less, if found in pocket or bag, is just a ticket, a violation that does not result in a criminal charge.  Open-air possession is however a misdemeanor, which can result in jail time. Roughly 50,000 arrests for marijuana are made yearly in NYC. Almost all arrested are black and Hispanic.

In Hunts Point, young males get stopped and frisked by the police about five times a year. Five times they are asked to empty their pockets. Often, when they have concealed marijuana, the police will then charge them with open-air possession after it’s forcibly removed from the pocket. I have heard it countless times. It’s not supposed to happen, but it does.

No one from my Brooklyn neighborhood ever worries about that. No one has been stopped and frisked, or asked to empty their pockets.

There is much unfair in the world, but this is just so obviously and blatantly and unnecessarily so. Young men in Hunts Point get arrested for the same thing hipsters freely do in Williamsburg without risk. A criminal record for even minor charges can, and does, easily snowball, creating just one more thing that makes it feel like, as one kid told me, “I will never escape, I will never be giving a fucking fair chance. “ Sadly, they are not given a fucking fair chance.

Growing to be 18 in Hunts Point without having a criminal record, without having finally broken and sassed back at the police for being stopped the eighteenth time for nothing, without having been the victim of crime, is hard.  It requires amazing personal discipline that few anywhere possess, and it requires luck. Mostly though, it requires a sense of hope, a sense that playing fair and clean will pay off. That hope is being made a farce, antagonizing a whole generation.

Why do we throw one more roadblock at these kids? I am not cynical enough to believe it’s part of a grand plan to keep the poor poor. It’s a lazy policy that falls on people who can’t fight back. It happens because it elevates police reports. It can be used in statistics to show shit is happening.

Do a thought experiment. Imagine the police coming into the Upper West Side, stopping and frisking. How do you think that would go? How long would that neighborhood consent to something so intrusive? How long would it take them to get the policy changed? How polite will the first corporate lawyer asked to empty his pockets be? Calls would be made, politicians alerted, the media written to.

Hunts Point feels the full weight of the law, subject to different rules. 

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