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Stop-and-frisk policies are dangerous

“Dude, I’m gonna break your f----n’ arm, then I’m gonna punch you in the f----n’ face.”
Sounds like a holdup, right? Or a mugging? Nope, it’s a police officer working for the NYPD.
But naturally there was a good reason for treating the guy like that. I mean, he must have just been caught running away from a crime scene or resisting arrest or something. Oh, no? He wasn’t even doing anything wrong? Alright, then.
A few days ago, an audio recording surfaced of three plain-clothes NYPD officers doing a stop-and-frisk of a teenager named Alvin in Harlem last summer.
Basically, in a stop-and-frisk, cops can stop you, order you to assume the position and check to make sure you have no weapons on you. Nationally, probable cause is thrown out the window in favor of “reasonable suspicion.”
When you listen to the recording, you can hear Alvin say that he’s already been stopped a few blocks back. The police are unconcerned with this. When he verbally objects to being frisked again, he is asked if he wants to go to jail. Alvin inquires as to the grounds of this possible arrest. The police respond it would be for being “a f-----g mutt.”
Isn’t that lovely.
See, the thing about this incident is not that the cops are behaving with such disregard for Alvin’s rights. It’s not even that the officers literally threatened to break his arm and punch him in the face, nor that they hurled racial slurs at him. It’s that they stopped Alvin in the first place.
Remember that under the Fourth Amendment, citizens of the U.S. have “the right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures...” and in fact, that right “shall not be violated.”
In Terry v. Ohio, the Supreme Court upheld the right to a narrow exception to the Fourth Amendment, allowing for these stop-and-frisk encounters.
Under this decision, it is legal for a police offer with reasonable suspicion of some illegal activity or wrongdoing to stop anyone on the street, question them and frisk them to check for weapons.
But what determines reasonable suspicion? According to the majority opinion in the Terry case, the officer executing the stop-and-frisk “must be able to point to specific and articulable facts” leading to their suspicion of wrongdoing.
This is a national standard, and, upon hearing the audio and seeing Alvin explain it for himself in the YouTube video “The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at the NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy,” any reasonable person would conclude that the officers obviously did not meet it.
But in New York, there is an even higher standard that the police have to meet to search a person or seize their effects. Article I, Section 12 of the New York Constitution states that the officers have to meet a burden of “probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” This is somewhat relaxed for stop-and-frisk encounters, in that the police must have a greater suspicion of wrongdoing in cases of minor infractions of the law and vice versa.
However, it is explicitly stated in the majority opinion establishing this sliding scale that if the stop-and-frisk is “undertaken with intent to harass or ... based upon mere whim ... or idle curiosity,” it violates the constitution. I think it’s safe to say that this is what happened in Alvin’s case.
So this has happened in New York. Great. Why should you care? Because there is nothing stopping OPD or UPD from doing this to you.
If you’re intoxicated and hanging out in front of the bar waiting on a taxi, they can stop you. If you’re running to catch a ride and look behind you quickly to make sure there’s not a car back there, that warrants a justified stop.
What happened to Alvin was a violation of his constitutional rights on a number of levels. Yours could be next.

Alexandra Williamson is an accountancy senior from Frisco, Texas. Follow her on Twitter @alyxwi.