New York City’s controversial “stop and frisk” policy has attracted worldwide headlines thanks to its naked injustice and profiling; 85% of those stopped are Black or Latino, and of all people of all races stopped, 82% were innocent of any crime. For young men of color in particular, the constant threat posed by stop and frisk is a concern when leaving the house, spending time around the neighborhood and going out with friends. If they fail to produce ID, comply with orders from police or respond as desired, they can be harassed, beaten or worse.
As Kristin Gwynne highlights at AlterNet, stop and frisk procedures can also cross the line into sexual harassment; they often involve ungloved handling of the genital area, with aggression that is entirely unnecessary. She documents the practice of “credit carding,” sliding the hand between the buttocks (often ungloved) to look for contraband, and points out that this is humiliating and degrading for subjects. Officers of both genders engage in such practices, usually in public, which adds to the humiliation experienced by the subject of the stop.
This is not a frisk or patdown, but a much more extensive search, one which requires both privacy and a warrant. Under the law, contraband found in a stop and frisk search conducted this invasively may not actually be acceptable as evidence, but many young people are not aware of this, and may be facing stiff charges for finds like marijuana or other drugs. Gwynne notes that once drugs are pulled out of a hiding place, they’re “in public view,” which results in harsher penalties, but of course they wouldn’t have been in view in the first place if a police officer hadn’t dragged them there.
The Center for Constitutional Rights conducted a detailed study on the human impact of stop and frisk policies to learn more about how it affects individuals living in their communities. Sexual harassment, sexual assault and inappropriate touching have all been reported by the subjects of stop and frisk searches, many of whom also note that protesting can result in being charged with resisting arrest. Some cases have involved forced public nudity and other abuses of privacy and dignity, with young victims terrified to advocate for themselves because they fear the consequences.
Notably, transgender people and other people who don’t fit gender norms are often subjected to particularly invasive and rough searches to “confirm their gender,” many of which cause emotional distress and also take the form of sexual assault. These can include having the genitals and anus grabbed or penetrated, as well as being forced to strip so that officers can examine the genital region. Such searches go far beyond the scope of a simple “frisk” and are a violation of the law as well as the dignity of the subject.
As the controversy over stop and frisk rages, it’s important to integrate conversations about sexual harassment and assault into the discussion, because all people should have full body autonomy and the right to protect themselves from inappropriate touching. The assault of young men and women of color in the name of public safety is a cause for significant concern, especially since it plays into larger social concerns about the bodies of people of color and how they are treated and judged by society. No one should have to submit to an invasive and illegal genital exam for fear of punishment, and such abuses certainly do not make for a freer or safer society.
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