The NYPD’s Long History of Targeting Black Immigrants

This was originally published on July 1, 2020 for DocumentedNY.



When George Floyd’s life was brutally ended under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, he repeatedly pleaded for his life, uttering the phrase: “I can’t breathe,” a painful déjà vu that hearkens many New Yorkers’ memories back to the death of Eric Garner via police chokehold in Staten Island just under six years ago.

Eric Garner’s killing brought to the national forefront the brutal truth of what New Yorkers had long contended within our neighborhoods and enclaves — that Black and POC communities in New York City were at the mercy of an unchecked police state, in all of its iterations, from the punitive shadow of immigration enforcement to the coded criminalization of Black neighborhoods in the form of broken windows policing.

The tragedy of Eric Garner however, was far from the first time that an incident of this scale reached national attention;15 years earlier, Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo was killed at the hands of four plainclothes police officers with 41 bullets, claiming that he met the description of a rape suspect and seemed to have a weapon on him (it was later confirmed that he was reaching for his wallet). Two years prior, Haitian immigrant Abner Louima was assaulted and sexually abused by 4 police officers in the 70th precinct of the NYPD after being picked up outside of an East Flatbush nightclub. 

There are numerous other stories of Black immigrants and their families being tyrannized by the mortal force of the Boys in Blue: Burkinabé Ousmane Zongo in Chelsea in 2003Haitian-American Patrick Dorismond in the Garment District in 2000, and Jamaican-American teen Ramarley Graham in 2012 in the Bronx. In nearly all of these narratives, the families and their communities spoke and organized against police brutality and the oppressive force of the NYPD – a shared pain that exists throughout the Black diaspora no matter when you touched America’s shores. 

22-year-old Amadou Diallo is shown in this undated photo. Diallo, an African immigrant, was returning to his home when four members of New York City’s elite police force ‘street Crime Unit” fired 41 bullets, killing Diallo. (Photo by Richard Harbus/Getty Images)

Presently, the neighborhood of Flatbush is reinvigorated in a new crusade against the police – a rush of organizing that has been inspired by the wave of protests that began in Minneapolis in the wake of George Floyd’s death, as well as the ongoing tensions with the increased police presence in the subways and streets that have already caused several violent conflicts with young teens. There are long-standing disruptions as well, as Emily Batista, organizer for Equality for Flatbush points out, “in Caribbean communities in Brooklyn, the informal economy and means of making money as a result of being systematically pushed out of the formal economy is criminalized by the NYPD,” adding “we know that the NYPD targets dollar van drivers, local street vendors, and the Caribbean owned businesses with harassment and violence. That is why we organize Black and Brown people across Brooklyn.”

Black New York residents have had to accept empty promises of pathways for reform. Organizations like Equality for Flatbush, as a result, have been proactively involved in organizing efforts, expanding their anti-policing actions into dedicated protests against police brutality. “When fighting for police and prison abolition, we are fighting the oppressive systems that criminalize Black Caribbean lives,” Batista says. “The police work with ICE to capture, detain, harass and intimidate people because of their possible immigration status. Fighting against white supremacy means fighting towards the liberation of all Black and Brown people from all forms of incarceration and prosecution.”

Neighborhoods with large African and Caribbean immigrant populations were also disproportionately targeted in stop and frisk. In a 2019 report, The New York Civil Liberties Union listed the precincts in New York City where force was most likely to be used by a police officer during a stop and frisk encounter between 2014 and 2017. At the top of the list were precincts in the neighborhoods of Concourse and Highbridge; Hunts Point; East Tremont and Belmont; Eastchester, Wakefield and Williamsbridge; University Heights and Morris Heights. All have large African and Caribbean populations, according to data from the American Community Survey.

For instance, force was used in 55% of the stops at the 44th Precinct in the Bronx neighborhoods of Concourse and Highbridge. They’re encompassed by Community District 4 where 41.6% of the population is foreign-born. Of that population, 63% were born in the Caribbean and 14.5% were born in Africa.

The five community districts where force was most likely to be used during a stop by the police were all in the Bronx. All had foreign born populations above New York City’s average, and are comprised mainly of African and Caribbean immigrants.

For the communities that organizers and activists such as Equality for Flatbush serve, which often have high densities of immigrants of all statuses, this presents a unique risk. Regardless of documentation status, present immigration policies, their enforcement and administration mean that any interaction with police, even in “sanctuary cities” like New York, can alert Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

\Pallbearers carrying the coffin of Patrick Dorismond, the Haitian immigrant who was killed by a New York City Police officer on 16 March, 2000, struggle through the crowd in front of the Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn, New York 25 March, 2000, after a funeral march through the heart of the borough. AFP PHOTO Henny Ray ABRAMS (Photo credit should read HENNY RAY ABRAMS/AFP via Getty Images)
Lawyer Johnnie Cochran, right, smiles at Abner Louima during a press conference July 12, 2001 in New York after the city and the it”s police union agreed to pay almost $9 million to settle Louima”s civil lawsuit. Four NYPD officers were convicted of criminal charges in 1999 for beating Louima in a police car and in a Brooklyn police station where one officer rammed a broken broomstick into his rectum in the precinct house bathroom. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

ICE has reportedly evaded sanctuary rules by using police fingerprint records to send letters to arrested immigrants — usually for low-level misdemeanor offenses such as fare hopping — and asking them to come into the agency’s Manhattan offices, which presents a concern for the levels of violent arrests that have been ongoing during the protests. In a notable recent night of protests in late May, over 300 people were arrested while documented instances of violence against civilians at the hands of police were made viral throughout social media. 

This added risk for the violent clashes that happen between protesters and police in communities like Flatbush in Brooklyn or Mott Haven in the Bronx is not insignificant. Peaceful protests in those neighborhoods were recently met with an NYPD tactic called kettling, which often provokes conflict. Black immigrants make up a disproportionate number of criminal-based deportations. According to the advocacy group Black Alliance for Just Immigration, 76 percent of Black immigrants are deported on criminal grounds, compared to 45 percent of all immigrants. Despite making up only 7.2 percent of the noncitizen population in the US, more than 20 percent of people facing deportation on criminal grounds are Black. 

The double-bind of being Black and an immigrant in working-class predominantly Black neighborhoods, such as Concourse village in the Bronx and Canarsie in Brooklyn, places you at an added risk of being churned through both the criminal and immigration court system without much of an escape route. This creates a prison-to-deportation pipeline, the likes of which has become increasingly difficult to evade, as outlined here. Despite this, immigrants continue to fight for the future they believe Blacks in America deserve. Inside detention facilities, they are organizing hunger strikes in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement; calling attention to the terrible conditions where they’re being held and highlighting how immigration court systems continue to uphold the exploitation of Black lives while they’re in detention. 

As much as ICE labels their holding spaces “civil” detention, there is very little that is materially different between their facilities and a standard prison, except for a denial of a guaranteed right to a lawyer and free reign for indefinite holds. “Abolishing police is basically essential to break the deportation machine. This is why we talk about the prison industrial complex,” New York City-based immigration lawyer Sophia Gurule said.

As the protests continue, the wide diaspora of faces continue their rebellion all in lockstep, bravely challenging a common enemy; the overarching scepter of the police brutality, the prison industrial complex, and all of the forces that justify fund, and absolve it. There is an unyielding pain that has taken hold in the streets of New York, accrued over decades of unacknowledged injustice – and regardless if your Black life was born as a direct descendant American chattel slavery, its close relative in the West Indies or across the Atlantic ocean on the African continent, the sentiment of “enough is enough” has gripped and unified these varied experiences into pushing for dismantling the oppressive boot of police forces within the five boroughs. Hopefully, this solidarity extends throughout the continued fight for Black liberation.

Five New Yorkers Describe How Michael Bloomberg’s Era of Stop-and-Frisk Changed New York City

Originally published for OkayPlayer in March 2020.


Michael Bloomberg’s support of stop-and-frisk during his time as New York City mayor continues to follow him in his 2020 presidential campaign. We talked to five New Yorkers about how the policy impacted the city. 

The recent and rapid elevation of Michael Bloomberg‘s Presidential campaign into the national discourse is reminiscent, in many ways, of his original mayoral run in New York City in 2002. Forgoing fundraising from the public, he has nonetheless outspent his opponents multiple times over, having made FEC filings detailing $460 million in expenditures since announcing his bid in November of 2019. Both then and now, the largesse-via-electioneering nullified the opportunity for many opposing candidates to be comparably competitive or resonant as they were drowned out by a blank check and name recognition. Bloomberg’s presidential campaign has also resurfaced three words that leave an acrid taste in the majority of New Yorkers’ mouths — stop-and-frisk. A longstanding policing practice that disproportionately targeted Black and Brown communities in NYC, stop-and-frisk was defended by Bloomberg’s administration during — and well after — his departure from office.  

The phraseology behind the policy has taken on many forms as the decades have progressed, shapeshifting in language as administrations have waded in and out of Gracie Mansion. When former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani lorded over the five boroughs with former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton flanking him, the terminology that was used was known as broken windows policing. But New Yorkers’ lips have also formed other words over the years that trigger responses that are just as polarizing: Terry stops, stop-question-and-frisk, and the shorthand stop-and-frisk itself. Imagine, for example, the daily fanfare for “New York’s Finest,” and consider the protracted dissonance felt within communities of color after the tragic events of September 11. Spending night after night expressing gratitude for a group of men and women who, at a moment’s notice, could exact unspeakable horrors on the communities they were praised for protecting. The incidents that did make it into the national consciousness — Amadou DialloEric Garner, and Kalief Browder — may have shocked the country, but it simply laid bare wounds that New Yorkers had been carrying for years. Those traumas have been pulled back into the foreground with the fear of a competitive Bloomberg campaign. As it was recently written in an impassioned open letter to communities of color by New York organizers and officials in advance of Super Tuesday, “the extent of harm, humiliation and terror that the Bloomberg administration’s daily racial profiling and police violence caused in Black, Latinx and other communities of color cannot be overstated.”

The figures have been parsed through ad-nauseam in recent years, proving the failure of the program to successfully meet its stated objectives throughout Bloomberg’s mayoral tenure. An exegesis of the program, however, will show that it was actually quite successful, and worked exactly as designed. With every stop, New York’s gilded class was able to imprint a painful reminder that no matter how hard you may fight, the city does not — and will never — actually belong to you. You can see it in nearly every tweet that cascades down the #mybloombergstory hashtag which, as described by Dr. Jacob Remes of New York University, is “filled with stories of harassment and worse from Muslim, Black, and Brown New Yorkers who lived through Bloomberg’s racist authoritarianism.”

In speaking to fellow New Yorkers who lived through the Bloomberg era, it’s apparent that this pain is still very much tangible for many of us, with deep, multigenerational harms that we are still recovering from and enduring. It has laid waste to our siblings, our friends and ourselves. 


Tiffany Caban, 32, Astoria, Queens

Photo Credit: Polly Irungu for Okayplayer.com

It was in early 2002 when I was politicized and became more aware of differences in our communities. My parents grew up in the projects and my dad got a union gig, and we were able to move in a small home in Richmond Hill. I went to public school in a low-income neighborhood for elementary and junior high, but went to a private Catholic High School in Fresh Meadows in an entirely different neighborhood. That is where I could see the jarring different signs on what neighborhood looks like, and specifically what overpoliced neighborhoods look like as opposed to other neighborhoods. My best friends were constantly getting harassed or roughed up by the police, or had police officers in school and getting suspended. There’s a palpable difference to walking into a school where people feel free to move, free to exist, and don’t have those kinds of other stressors in their life.

When you look at places where we’re overpoliced and over surveilled, what we’re also talking about is a lack of resources to allow people to deal with their trauma and heal. So, trauma begets change, which begets instability, which begets violence. We’re quick to draw these surface-level conclusions about what happens in certain neighborhoods and not talk about what the root causes of violence are, and how we can tie that to trauma caused by state-sanctioned violence.

[As a public defender] you also see an overwhelming amount of young Black and brown men. But when we pick up those cases, you know who’s sitting in the courtroom? It’s the girlfriends and their wives and their children, and that disrupts and affects their lives in very significant ways. Whether it’s people that are scrounging up their last dollars for bail, people that are risking losing their housing or their job. A lot of times when we’re dealing with cases, people think that our biggest concern or fear is like, “Oh, God, I gotta make sure that I don’t end up with criminal records on this case,” or “I want the best legal outcome.” When, in reality, the lawyers are doing more social work or other services. Because the real purpose of the person that’s directly affected is something else that has to do with their living situation or their family, in terms of how destabilizing the arrest and the court appearances are for their lives. 

Photo Credit: Polly Irungu for Okayplayer.com

I had a client who was charged with a misdemeanor, and he had been arrested a handful of times. So, the prosecutor was offering jail or probation on this misdemeanor sentence. We had this very real conversation where [the client] was like, “Ms. Caban, I don’t know. I think I might take the 45 days in jail because I will never last on probation, because these same cops are roughing me up every other day.”

It still happens every single day. A really easy place to see it happening is here in Queens with the loitering for the purpose of prostitution. Predominantly trans women of color are being stopped and arrested for existing and walking down the street. That is another iteration of stop-and-frisk. Nobody has ruled that statute unconstitutional, because we’re talking about people who are on the margins of the margin. Unfortunately, there is not enough political will behind it to have the organizing and movement that it took to get to where we were on stop-and-frisk, and being able to get it to the courts and have it ruled unconstitutional. 

We have consistently taken these stances without centering or allowing survivors or victims to lead, and instead said, “Hey, we’re going to do these really harmful things to our Black and brown communities that create the optics of safety for white wealthy folks, at the expense of actual safety of the hands of state-sanctioned violence for Black and brown people.”

Ryan Anderson, 34, Cambria Heights, Queens

Photo Credit: Polly Irungu for Okayplayer.com

Until this day — whether I’m driving or whether I’m walking — when I see a NYPD officer my heart specifically skips a beat. I’m terrified. I usually move over and brake, no matter how fast I’m going.

The presence wasn’t as there as much where I grew up. But when I would go to 40 Projects [South Jamaica Houses] or certain parts…when you’re playing basketball, and the cops will just roll into the park and put everybody up against the fence and start asking you questions.

Photo Credit: Polly Irungu for Okayplayer.com

We were walking down Jamaica Avenue [once] — this was senior year of high school. I was walking back from work. I would go to McDonald’s and then come home after work. Walking down the avenue myself — maybe two blocks away from Jamaica — two cops stopped me and asked me “where I was going.” “Sir, I just left work. I’m headed to the bus station. I’m headed home.” “Well, we’ve heard that there’s been some noises and some issues in the area. So we want to just check to make sure that you’re good.” They pushed me up against the wall and proceeded to search and, of course, I don’t have anything on me. The worst part about it is that there’s never an apology. You have to take it or you know what happens if you kick back. That’s when you end up going to holding [detention center], that’s when you may end up being folded — even if you are 100% clean.

It’s scary to say but I’ve hit double digits [in stops] — I’ll leave it at that.

Civil, [Age Not Disclosed] Bushwick, Brooklyn

Photo Credit: Polly Irungu for Okayplayer.com

When you think about Harlem and Bedford–Stuyvesant, gentrification is clearly occurring in these areas. but you still see a semblance of the culture. Whereas like Bushwick, the culture was ate up within the span of that police presence. Just use the Puerto Rican Day parade as an example. It would go on until maybe 10, 11 [PM]. Now you won’t even hear nothing. Like, you will hear one horn beep. Block parties are not the same.

Photo Credit: Polly Irungu for Okayplayer.com

One of my close friends’ son was born one day, and we went to celebrate around the corner at this Chinese restaurant-bar. There was a group of girls that my friend knew from the block…he’s just saying, “What up” or whatever. The cops come out — they’ve been tailing them — and then just start pressing us. They push all of us against the wall, start frisking us. One of the cops is like, shook. I can see he’s scared. I’m like, “This is how shit happens.” This guy has his hand on his gun, and they’re trying to tell them to leave the young girls alone. We were there for like, 20, 30 minutes.

[I’ve been in] uncomfortable situations where it’s me by myself being pressed by five cops. I’m late to go somewhere…and the line of question is like, they’re asking me about shit in the Bronx, even though I’m deep in Brooklyn. They took my ID, walked off for 20 minutes, and just seemed like they were trying to place me somewhere.

Candace Simpson, [Age Not Disclosed] Flatbush, Brooklyn

Photo Credit: Polly Irungu for Okayplayer.com

I actually went to the same [high school] Bernie Sanders went to — [James] Madison. Madison was the kind of school where people came from all over. I was coming from Flatbush; my boyfriend at the time was coming from Canarsie; people were coming from East New York. So there’s this bus stop where the B7 and the B82 meet. We would all hang out and congregate right there. We would take the bus to like Utica-ish — where like the Wendy’s and the McDonald’s was — or we would take the B6 to the Junction.

One time we were coming from Madison and we ended up near Midwood High School. These cops — I don’t know if they were NYPD cops or if they were school safety agents because they wore the same uniforms — stopped us, and I was the only girl. There was like six of us. Then the cop was like, “Oh, can I see your student ID?” and we’re what — 15,16. This was before my understanding that interactions like that could become deadly. So, I was like, very bratty and very, you know, “I know my rights, my momma’s gonna call my lawyer.” In my mind, I’m thinking that I’m good, but the guys around me were kind of shook. Eventually, we showed the ID, and the cop was like, “You guys just match the description of someone we’re looking for.”

Multiple things are happening at once with the uptick of stop and frisk. That happens at the same time as major landscape changes for socializing for Black and brown youth. Empire [rolling rink in Brooklyn] doesn’t exist anymore, the movie theater at Kings Plaza doesn’t exist anymore. There are very few places where Black children can go and not be policed. What stop-and-frisk did to us over time, was it helped people to see groups of Black children out and wonder, “What y’all doin’?”…the places where we would go are being demolished, resold…our owners are being bought out. There are so many spaces that meant a lot to me as a teenager that don’t exist anymore. 

Photo Credit: Polly Irungu for Okayplayer.com

[Ending stop-and-frisk?] That’s like asking people who were enslaved before and after the proclamation went out. Like, it’s not on the books anymore, but if we were to carry that analogy, people are still sharecropping. There’s still a disproportionate force of oppression on Black and brown communities. People say that stop-and-frisk ended as an official policy in 2017. I don’t feel a difference. If I feel a difference it’s because neighborhoods are changing.

My hope, is that we can really get to a place where all Black lives matter, and we don’t negotiate or sacrifice the most vulnerable among us. Because once we surrender and sacrifice someone, then the logic just becomes open, and it’s just a matter of time before it gets to you. So, just because you don’t have somebody who’s locked up doesn’t mean that you should not care.

Gregory Herrera, 30, Washington Heights, NY

[In the Early 2000s] cops stopping kids who were not in school for “truancy” was still a thing…I was absent a lot from school — pretty much most of my academic life for a variety of reasons like taking care of my younger siblings if we couldn’t get a babysitter, helping my mom do shit, or just because I didn’t want to go to school. My mom was like, “Fine, whatever, your grades are good, I don’t have to worry about that.” So if I had to go to the store or something it was very much like, “I’m going to run down to the store real quick and come back up fast, because if a cop stops you they have the right to come up to you.”…my sense was just like, “I don’t really want to come across cops. They stop kids for being truants and they’ll stick you in the back of a van.”

It must have been ’04, ’05. We had this, like, big bulky Hewlett-Packard computer and it had a virus. A [Puerto Rican] friend of mine from church was like, “Yeah, bring it over to my house. I’ll wipe it clean, delete the hard drive whatever, reinstall it fresh.” I was like, “Cool.” So I put it in a trash bag and just took it over to him…by J Hood Wright Park…like West of Broadway, a little bit past Fort Washington which, if you’re born or raised in the Heights, that’s the white people side of the Heights.

A couple days go by, I go get it. I must have made it like a block and a half…I noticed this like, pudgy, middle-aged, nondescript white guy. Then I hear, “Oh, what’s that?” and I’m so caught off on the question that I answered it. The next thing I know, he catches up to me and goes like, “Police, stop right there” and shoved me up against the wall. I’m so thrown off by everything that’s happening that I dropped the computer and it lands on my foot a little bit. I had some form of ID — eventually, he was like, “It’s just, you know, we’ve got reports of people stealing computers around here,” and then he walks away.

It was just terrifying, fast as hell. And it just made me just be like, “I got to be on guard for all types of motherfuckers,” because this guy was dressed regularly and he wasn’t dressed like a cop or anything. If I see [cops] somewhere I’m clocking where they are and paying attention to where they’re moving to, because I don’t want to be near them. I don’t want them to be near me.

There are still people that are being stopped, questioned and then frisked. So it affects my actual job [as a public defender] immensely. Several of my clients — the reason that they have criminal charges — are based on stop-and-frisk type interactions.

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The Death and Afterlife of Stephon Clark

Originally published for the Daily Intelligencer at NYMag.

On March 18, Stephon Clark’s life was brutally taken by police officers in his grandmother’s backyard. Body-cam footage shows police, who were responding to a report of break-ins in the neighborhood, opening fire seconds after one of the officers yells, “gun!” All that was found on Clark’s lifeless body, however, was an iPhone.

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