Christian Lassiter presented testimony on Stop & Frisk to the City Council
As presented to City Council Civil Rights Committee: “Stop and Frisk Profiling”
October 23, 2012
My name is Christian Lassiter and I am a Staff Attorney in the Criminal Defense Practice at The Bronx Defenders. I would like to say thank you to the members and staff of the Civil Rights Committee for the opportunity to testify.
As an attorney, to say that I am familiar with stop and frisk policies is an understatement. I could literally speak for hours about experiences my clients have faced at the hands of these blatantly racist policies. But, tonight, I would like to speak from a different perspective. Tonight, I will speak about my own experiences with stop and frisk to best illustrate the reality of this policy.
I am a black male. I like to think of myself as still young. Whether or not that is true is another issue. The reality of these policies is that a particular picture has been painted of who “fits the description” as someone that should be stopped. Occupation is irrelevant. Educational background does not matter. Most importantly, a person’s motivations, intent, or actions likewise, do not matter. None of this matters. It didn’t matter for the nearly 700,000 people stopped in 2011 alone, 85% of whom were black and Latino. And it didn’t matter for me on a hot night last summer.
The reason I don’t have to speak of my client’s stories of being blatantly, systematically, and consistently profiled is that I too, “fit the description” of what officers following the stop and frisk policies look for. I’m black. I’m male. I look young or so I think.
Last summer I was walking in Brooklyn with two friends. It was Friday night and we were enjoying a night out, which has become rare for us after starting our careers. We were walking down Atlantic Avenue, when a NYPD police vehicle slowly passed by us. Immediately, one of my friends said to us that these officers were going to mess with us. I dismissed my friend’s comments. I dismissed them because we had done nothing except literally walk down the street. I watched the car pass slowly and began to wonder if there was some truth to my friend’s initial suspicions.
I wish I could say he was wrong. He wasn’t. The car passed and drove up onto the sidewalk at the intersection of 3rd Avenue and Atlantic. Two officers exited. One was a sergeant, notated by his white uniform, and a younger officer. The officers approached, arms outstretched and asked us to stop walking for a moment. My other friend immediately told the officers they can’t just search us for no reason. The officers continued to approach and ultimately blocked our path. I immediately asked the officers what they were stopping us for and was greeted with no immediate verbal response. I then realized that these officers’ attention was diverted somewhere else.
The officers were both looking over our shoulders. I turned around to notice another NYPD vehicle pull up. The sergeant then walked a few steps towards this police car and pointed at all three of us. He received a “thumbs down” gesture from the officers. The car drove away. The officers became very nervous as I identified myself as an attorney. They still asked for identification, which we all refused. I again asked the officer why we were stopped. The sergeant informed me that there had been a robbery of a cell phone in the area and that they were looking for a black male in a white t-shirt, which coincidentally was what I was wearing. The officers were looking for any black male near Atlantic Avenue that was wearing a white t-shirt, stopping them, and seeing if they might be the person who committed this robbery. The officers then received a call on their radio. They ran to their cars and drove away.
I had to explain to my friends as I am now explaining to you what had really just happened. From my experience as a criminal attorney, I realized that these officers had just conducted what is known as a show-up identification procedure. They had the complaining witness from the robbery they spoke of in the additional police car that drove up after the police had stopped us. Thankfully, that complaining witness did not identify us.
However, all it would’ve taken was that same complaining witness to be mistaken. All it would have taken was that person to say yes. All three of us would have been immediately arrested for felony robbery charges. My license to practice law would have been suspended. One of my friends may not be on his way to becoming a dean of a high school in Brooklyn, while my other friend may very well not be a project manager for the construction company he works for. All of this, in addition to fighting a felony case, for wearing a white t-shirt in the summertime. I know all too well how close this came to being a reality.
I wish this was an isolated incident, but it’s not. Not for countless others and not even for myself. I “fit the description” of what stop and frisk policies are targeting. Black. Male. Young. I am a prime candidate to be stopped and search. So much so, that I NEVER leave my house without identification. I even have my license stuffed in my sock when I go for runs down Eastern Parkway. I don’t fit the mold of what most think a lawyer looks like. But, I most certainly fit the mold of what stop and frisk policies are aimed to target. This is a part of MY reality. I live with it and have had to accept it as a part of my everyday life. People in my demographic have been criminalized by their appearance alone. It doesn’t matter who they are, where they work, or even that they were in court cross-examining an officer for a stop that shouldn’t have been made just hours earlier. Young, black, and male equals suspicious according to NYPD’s stop and frisk policies. I am saddened, tired, and angered that this is a part of my everyday reality. We as a community deserve more and I know we can do much better.