Teen arrested for “being a f**king mutt” records incident on iPod

A black teen captured one of the only recordings thus far of New York City's controversial "stop and frisk" program in action.

Mar 3, 2020, 1:42 am*

IRL

Jennifer Abel 

Jennifer Abel

This really happened, in America: Three police officers accosted a lone, unarmed black teenager and threatened to “break [his] fuckin’ arm,” “punch [him] in the fuckin’ face,” and arrest him “for being a fuckin’ mutt.”

Did this happen someplace like Alabama or Mississippi during the civil rights movement, over 60 years ago? Probably. But it also happened in New York City last year, and only came to light last week after The Nation released what is believed to be one of the very few audio recordings of the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” program in action.

But more audio recordings might soon be forthcoming, now that the New York Civil Liberties Union has released a free phone app so other New Yorkers subject to stop and frisk can record their experiences, too.

Ever since it started in the 1990s, New York City’s stop and frisk program has been extremely controversial. As the name suggests, it gives police the right to stop, question and frisk pretty much anybody they see, and in May 2012, a New York judge granted class-action status to a lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights aimed at ending the stop and frisk program.

CCR noted that:

 “In 2011, in New York City, 685,724 people were stopped, 84 percent of whom were Black and Latino residents — although they comprise only about 23 percent and 29 percent of New York City’s total population respectively [….] 88 percent of all stops did not result in an arrest or a summons being given. Contraband was found in only 2 percent of all stops. The NYPD claims their stop and frisk policy keeps weapons off the street – but weapons were recovered in only one percent of all stops. These numbers clearly contradict that claim.”

Lawsuits opposing stop-and-frisk say such police behavior violates the fourth amendment to the constitution, which guarantees “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures …but upon probable cause.”

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In other words: unless the government has a good, specific reason (“probable cause”) to suspect you of specific wrongdoing, they’re supposed to leave you alone. But the large number of innocent (and mostly non-white) New Yorkers who are stopped and frisked suggests that no longer holds true.

New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg and police commissioner Raymond Kelly have repeatedly defended stop and frisk in the face of civil-liberty complaints. After a series of shootings in New York City last July, Bloomberg cited the shootings as evidence why stop and frisk needs to continue, and criticized the New York Civil Liberties Union for opposing it. “They sit there and they pontificate and they complain,” said Bloomberg of the NYCLU. “Our police officers put their lives on the line every single day.”

Then came Oct. 8, when The Nation released an audio recording made by “Alvin,” a teenager from Harlem. The magazine also used part of the recording in a 13-minute video about stop-and-frisk, called The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at NYPD’s Stop and Frisk Policy.

“Alvin” had been stopped and frisked twice on June 3, 2011, and secretly recorded his second encounter with the police using his iPod. The Nation reports that the three cops who stopped Alvin that night were all in plainclothes. The audio clearly indicates that the police repeatedly refused to give Alvin any clear reason for stopping him; they refused to answer his questions, escalated the encounter with increasingly belligerent language and, indeed, seemed to take it as a personal attack whenever Alvin said anything at all.

At the very beginning of the recording, a policeman’s voice can faintly be heard saying “You again, eh?” Alvin protested that he’d just been stopped “two blocks ago.” One cop said Alvin looked suspicious, and repeatedly demanded to know why Alvin “kept looking back at us.”

(It’s worth remembering that, from Alvin’s perspective, these are three guys in ordinary clothes following his lone self down the street at night – but if he glances back to keep an eye on them, HE is the one accused of suspicious behavior.)

The recording continues:

COP: Listen to me. Listen to me. Listen to me. Our job is to look for suspicious behavior. When you keep lookin’ at us like that, lookin’ back –

ALVIN: ’Cause you always, like – I just got stopped like two blocks away, like –

COP: ’Cause you keep doing that shit, man. We stopped you last time. Listen to me. When you’re walking the block with your hood up, and you keep looking back at us like that …

The next few seconds are hard to make out, because several people talk at once. At one point Alvin, using a calm, straightforward tone of voice, says that he wore his hood up because he was cold. As soon as he says that, a policeman is heard saying “gonna smack you.”

ALVIN: You’re gonna smack me? You’re gonna – you’re gonna smack me?

OFFICER: What’s that?

ALVIN: No, you asked me why I had a bookbag on. You asked me –

OFFICER: Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?

The next few seconds go back and forth between Alvin desperately repeating variants of “you asked why I had a bookbag on” while the cop repeated variations of “Who the fuck are you talking to?” Then, at the recording’s 1:10 mark:

ALVIN: Why you touching me for?

OFFICER: You wanna go to jail?

ALVIN: What for?

OFFICER: Shut your fucking mouth, kid!

ALVIN: Why am I getting arrested for?

OFFICER: Shut your mouth!

ALVIN: What am I getting arrested for?

OFFICER: For being a fucking mutt, [unintelligible].

As the encounter continues, the officers continue shouting obscenities and threats at Alvin, demanding that he “show some fucking respect” before one threatens, “Dude, I’m gonna break your fuckin’ arm, then I’m gonna punch you in the fuckin’ face.”

As an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights noted about stop and frisk: “This is not merely an inconvenience, as the [police] department likes to describe it. This is men with guns surrounding you in the street late at night when you’re by yourself. You ask why and they curse you out and rough you up.”

Thus far neither the mayor’s office nor the NYPD has said anything about Alvin’s stop and frisk experience, possibly because the city is too busy defending another stop-and-frisk related matter in the courts this week: “Operation Clean Halls,” which is pretty much identical to the stop and frisk program, except stop and frisk gives police carte blanche to stop people on public streets, whereas “Operation: Clean Halls” grants police carte blanche inside the common areas of apartment buildings.

It’s far too early to predict how the courts will rule on any stop and frisk cases. While the program is still ongoing, however, the New York Civil Liberties Union released a free Stop and Frisk Watch App, letting people record stop and frisk encounters, and receive alerts whenever stop-and-frisks are conducted in their neighborhoods. Right now the app is only available for Android phones, though the NYCLU hopes to release an iPhone version later.

The identities of the three police officers in Alvin’s recording have not been released.

Photo via The Nation

 

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*First Published: Oct 16, 2012, 6:39 pm