Part One: INSIDE POLICE PROFILING
“I drive up and down Harlem blocks / Iced out watch / Knots in my socks / Cops think I’m selling rocks / Pulling me over, to see if I’m drunk / But I’m sober / They wouldn’t fuck with me if I drove a Nova”
Big L: “The Enemy”
“Woop-woop! That’s the sound of the police / Woop-woop that’s the sound of the beast”
KRS-One: “Sound of da Police”
During a muggy summer weekend this past August, Seventy-four people were shot in Chicago. 74. Seventy-four! Of those shot, 12 were killed in shootings that a flummoxed Mayor Rahm Emanuel chalked up to gang violence in low income Black and Latino neighborhoods. Of course the shootings were the product of gang violence in Black and Brown neighborhoods where gangs shoot, stab, and pummel each other for control of drug dealing territories. The Latin Kings, Gangster Disciples, Maniac Latin Disciples, Vice Lords, and other gangs terrorizing the poverty stricken communities on Chicago’s West and South Sides are no different from uber violent hoods across America from L.A. to New York and from Detroit to Houston. Pick an area code and the demographics are the same. Low income communities have the worst crime rates and those with predominately minority populations tend be the most problematic. This is not hot off the presses breaking news. It is a sad stereotype. But you know what is really sad news regarding Chicago’s violent weekend? Weeks after the shootings, police have not made one arrest.
Not one arrest in 74 shooting incidents.
I have strong opinions on why I believe this to be the case, which I will cover as well as other issues over a four part series but for now, I’ll delve into police profiling and why it exists and why it works to a certain extent.
I worked as a police officer for nearly 5 years with the NYPD, the bulk of that time was spent working the rough and tumble project ridden streets of the South Bronx’ 40th Precinct right on the corner of E. 138th Street and Alexander Avenue, across the street from the Mitchel Houses, a New York City Housing Authority development, one of many violent “projects” in the confines of my precinct’s patrol jurisdiction. Of the nearly 4 years I spent first working a foot post along the Melrose and Jackson Houses and later in a patrol squad with my partner and good friend Deon Ayala, I do not ever recall issuing a summons to, or arresting a White man or woman. I think I would remember if I had because it would be such an outlier considering that the South Bronx is historically predominately Latino and Black, matter of fact, I looked up city demographics for the 10451 area code where the 40th Precinct is located, and as of 2015 it was not shocking to see that there is a very small White population of approximately 920 Whites living in the confines of the 40th Precinct. That number is surely increasing due to gentrification blooming along Bruckner Boulevard and its ideal location for transportation via the Willis Avenue Bridge and the 6 Train taking you right into Harlem and Downtown however, where the city is trying to make certain strategic locations in the outer boroughs trendy, the projects are still the projects, and so are the surrounding blocks. Of those 900 plus Whites that have a 10451 Zip Code, I’ll bet virtually none of them live in NYCHA developments. None. You won’t find one hipster walking out of apartment 7B from a building in Patterson projects. The numbers from that same survey in 2015 show nearly 16,000 Blacks and 27,000 Hispanics living in the 10451 Zip Code in the South Bronx. These numbers are nearly identical across all NYCHA developments and the neighboring city blocks in other parts of the Bronx as well as Brooklyn, Queens, and parts of Manhattan. Poverty and low income communities across the 5 boroughs are linked with predominately minority (Black and Latino) populations which unfortunately translates to high crime rates. Yes, violent crime is down in New York City, which can claim to be the safest big city in America, but believe me when I tell you that those numbers can be just as fugazy as the Diamonds Lefty tried to give to Donnie Brasco when they first met. Nonetheless, hazy Compstat statistics aside, the NYPD has done a good job driving down crime to historic lows which can attributed to numerous reasons. One of those reasons may be that unspoken taboo in law enforcement circles; profiling. What’s profiling? Lemme tell you.
Critics argue that police profiling is a civil rights violation because police departments unfairly target minorities for stops and inquiries in minority dominant communities. Criminal profiling is a tried and true practice but criminal profiling can become racial profiling inadvertently; based on the ethnic makeup of police patrol jurisdictions. For the record, keep in mind that the author is a medium complexion Puerto Rican born and raised in the Bronx, and has lived in NYCHA developments, and other heavily minority populated neighborhoods in the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens including Castle Hill, Spanish Harlem and Corona. As a teen, I was stopped without warning and frisked numerous times, including a few occasions in which I was cursed at, had my pockets contents thrown on the ground, and handcuffed while cops ran my name for a warrant check. All of these encounters occurred in or around crime ridden neighborhoods, and I was stopped because of the way I dressed at the time, which was the standard New York Hip Hop street uniform according to the seasons: jeans and Timbs with a hoodie or North Face in the winter, Uptowns or Jordans with shorts, a tee and a Yankee hat in the summer. Perhaps my complexion had something to do with it and I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was being profiled. I had a good job post high school and I made some money on the side as a mixtape DJ, so I bought nicer clothes, and some jewelry. I became used to cops noticing me. I suspect they profiled me. I told myself if I ever became a cop, I would police the streets respectfully. I would make it a point to communicate more, rather than be hands on. Life is can be ironic because after I completed my Army bid, I did become a cop, joining the NYPD but a funny thing happened to me when I hit the streets as a rookie. People hate the police. All they see is the uniform, not the person. Police don’t have a chance. It affected the way I interacted. Working in the 40th Precinct in the South Bronx, there is no profiling because just about everyone you encounter is Latino or Black, and the precinct is responsible for patrolling an area that has the highest concentration of public housing developments in the entire country so how in the hell would police be unfairly targeting minorities?
“The streets is filled with undercovers / Homicide chasin’ brothers / The D’s on the roof tryin’ to, watch us and knock us…Nas is a rebel of the street corner / Pullin’ a Tec out the dresser / Police got me under pressure”
Scour the demographics for police precincts across the five boroughs and you will find predicable Compstat numbers in some of the worst neighborhoods in the city. East New York, Brownsville, Jamaica, Long Island City which houses the biggest housing development in the entire country; the infamous Queensbridge Houses which makes the local news for stereotypical drug crew busts just as much as it’s famous Hip Hop artists pump out new product for the masses. But wait, New York City is the safest big city in the country you say? Sure it is..Times Square and Battery Park City, DUMBO, and the East Village all welcome you to their $2,500 a month studio apartments as well as the still being gentrified historic neighborhoods of Harlem and Spanish Harlem on the east side. Oh yeah, those neighborhoods have some of the worst gang problems and projects in Manhattan. Upper east side or west side, no matter how many multi-million dollar condos blossom, they are still across the street from gang infested, pissy stairwell, Section 8 public housing. There is still something oddly funny about seeing fair skinned hipsters who are totally oblivious to the ghetto angst surrounding them, as they pedal away on their Citibikes or jog along the unforgiving concrete in front of the projects, adjacent to their million dollar rentals. Local community leaders complain to the local news about racial stereo types. “They don’t stop people in Staten Island.” Well, they sure do, in the 120th or “One Two-Wu” precinct that most Wu-Tang Clan members hail from, but that just furthers the stereo type of profiling, right?
Looking at this issue on a national scale, and taking into consideration the rash of police involved shootings that have made for juicy headlines in the last several years, it would be fair to conclude that police target minorities, or at least that is what the media leads you to believe. This is simply not true. Yes, there are corrupt cops who selfishly and sadly manipulate the system for monetary compensation or quite simply, they had criminal tendencies either before they took the oath, or became corrupted on the job. Yes, there are police who probably are closet racists who use their power to bully and intimidate. But you can say the same for teachers, politicians, lawyers, bankers, pick a profession. There is poison in the well in any profession. Policing is magnified because of the responsibility that comes with the job. I like to think of Spider-Man when Uncle Ben told him “With great power comes great responsibility.” Some people can’t handle the power that comes with graduating from police academy. The uniform. The gun. The badge. The utility belt. Then, you hit the streets and you realize that everything you learned in the academy didn’t prepare you for shit. Herein lies the problem: You either have “it” or you don’t. You either know the slanguage, or you don’t (you better learn it). There’s a sixth sense, that gut instinct, the “eye” which tells you that brown skinned young man who just walked past your patrol car is packing or not, or he may have a bulge with what may be dozens of vials of crack in his pocket but damn, I can’t search for drugs..what do I do? Or maybe, just maybe he’s a freakin’ regular 20 year old kid in college or working in a store and he’s visiting his friend or his Grandmother in anyhood, U.S.A. which happens to be a high crime location; police call it a “Hotspot”. This profiling stuff can mess with your head, but again, is it profiling if the hotspot has an overwhelming makeup of minority populations in its zip code? How can police be accused of racially profiling in this instance, which is an unfortunate reality for those living in low income communities ravaged by drug and gang violence such as the gang polluted neighborhoods in Chicago?
“Run! If you sell drugs in the school zone / Run! If you getting chased with no shoes on / Run! Fuck that! Run! Cops got, guns!”
Ghostface Killah: “Run”
If you are in a gang and are puttin’ in work for your set, or your block, or your colors, or whatever the hell you are reppin’ in your twisted mind, then you cannot accuse police of hating or profiling you because you are behaving like a menace to society. If you are hustling anywhere on the corner of your block, or out of your building lobby, in front of the bodega or the Chinese take-out, or as Tone Starks so eloquently rapped about selling drugs in a school zone, you better run when you see the D’s creepin’ or the uniforms pull up, but you cannot rationalize with a sane frame of mind that the police are hating or profiling because you as the individual are actively engaging in illegal criminal behavior. I know, police are the biggest haters in the world. Here are a few of the greatest quotes I can recall during some street encounters from my time working in the South Bronx: “You tryin’a stop my stacks!”, “You just mad cause I make more than you” (so unoriginal and boring), “Why you on my dick? Homo ass cops always wanna touch a nigga”, “Why you stopping me? I ain’t do nothin’!, Go stop rapists and killers!“, and my all time favorite: “I bet you I’ll fuck you up if you ain’t have that gun and badge” to which my response was “Word?”, while I removed my gun belt and handed it off to my partner and proceeded to throw the hands with Mr. Former Braveheart turned Shook One. To me, that was ultimate community policing, albeit, a way out of bounds option but I chose to police the streets with an outside of the box mindset. The streets need to take responsibility and stop blaming everyone and everything else, especially the police, for the route they choose. You can make it out. Yes, the hood is treacherous, but you can walk a noble route if you choose to do so. Crime causation is based on many factors. Don’t fall into the same ill habits that doom so many others and leads toward recidivism and probation visits. Police can also do better. Training should focus more on community policing ,building relationships, and avoiding the dreaded slippery slope. There is nothing more counterproductive than a society which is practically raising their children to fear police rather than respect them. Think about that.
Perhaps the reason why police in Chicago are seemingly so hands off and letting the urban communities drown in gang violence is due to a graphic police involved shooting from a few years ago involving an unhinged teen armed with a knife, and the inevitable protests and sometimes violent demonstrations that followed. These incidents sadly become more political due to those in government office suddenly playing defense, washing their hands clean of any bloody fallout that may stain their reelections or halt their political ascension. What happens is the communities and the police agencies continue to share the same shit sandwich from different angles, but it still tastes like shit. The same finger pointing cycle of cops and robbers with some innocent lives caught in the crossfire, becoming headlines and clickbait for juicy fuck the police headlines (The Media and Policing will be covered more in depth in Part Four of this series). I’m not a police expert, and I’m not a ‘hood star either. But I know a little bit of both worlds. The ‘hood is always going to hate the police, and the Blue Wall of Silence will never (or rarely, word to whistleblowers) break. So what can we do? Better. We can do better.
“Did you come to see the show? / Or to the stupid nigga playoffs? / Killin’ you and killin’ me / It’s the soliloquy of chaos”
Guru of Gang Starr: “Soliloquy of Chaos”
******Part Two: Streets is Watching coming soon….follow me for monthly articles from a cutting edge perspective on a variety of topics******