Whether in New York City or Binghamton, urban residents have continued to worry about harassment and discrimination by local law enforcement. Saturday morning, researchers from both cities came together at the University Downtown Center to discuss their findings and solutions to move forward.
Members of the Morris Justice Project (MJP), a collaborative research effort including researchers from the City University of New York (CUNY), John Jay College, Pace University and residents from the South Bronx, shared their police interactions with members of the Binghamton and Binghamton University communities.
The MJP uses a system called participatory action research that combines local experience and engagement with the community through surveys. In addition to questioning residents within a 40-block area in the Bronx, the MJP integrates local participation through “sidewalk science,” in which they publicize statistics about police interactions. They draw survey results on the ground with chalk, project information on the sides of buildings at night and speak in community forums to discuss their feelings about the police.
“That’s the way we were engaging with the community to further understand what these numbers mean and how this made sense in the lives of the people living on these blocks,” said Cory Greene, a doctoral student studying psychology at CUNY.
The group formed in 2011 after CUNY researchers Brett Stoudt and Maria Elena Torre noticed that, according to New York Police Department statistics, out of the 4,882 stops made by 44th police precinct in the Bronx, over half resulted in the use of physical force, yet over 90 percent of those stops did not lead to arrests or court summons.
The stop-and-frisk practice studied by the MJP is part of a broader policing tactic known as broken window policing, which cracks down on misdemeanor offenses in order to stop more serious crimes. However, residents of the area said that instead of making their neighborhoods safer, broken window policing has often meant that police will stop them multiple times unnecessarily, even outside of their own homes.
Three Bronx residents and members of the MJP, Jacqueline Yates, Nadine Sheppard and Fawn Bracy, spoke of the emotional toll that broken window policing has had on them and their children, who have been stopped hundreds of times by police growing up.
“If you’re constantly stopping the young men and women in this area, you’re just saying that this is what their future is going to be,” Yates said. “This happening to them, it does make a difference. It does take something away from them.”
To collect data on residents’ experiences and feelings, the MJP spent three months in 2011 passing out a survey to a total of 1,030 people asking questions such as how often they were stopped by police, if stops resulted in arrests or court summons and where stops occurred.
With the data they collected, the MJP revealed that 63 percent of those surveyed said they felt targeted by the police. They also demonstrated disparities between the amount of stops in the Bronx versus areas with fewer ethnic minority groups, such as the East Village, where police only stopped 2,135 people.
While the research and community outreach done by the MJP only applies to a small area of the Bronx, it could spark a conversation about similar problems with police in Binghamton, said Sean Massey, a professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at BU and a member of the Binghamton Human Rights Commission (BHRC). Massey learned of the MJP at a conference, and invited them to speak because he saw similarities between the two cities.
“Nationally, we know this is a conversation that is going on,” Massey said. “What I think we need to face here in Binghamton is that we need to ask ourselves if we have challenges like this that we need to confront locally in our community.”
The BHRC was created by the City Council in 2011 to address concerns about discrimination, provide educational materials to the public and help eliminate official discrimination in the local community.
According to Massey, research done by the BHRC concluded that racial minority drivers are five times more likely to be stopped by Binghamton police than others. And although ethnic and racial minorities make up 15 percent of the population, only 3 percent of the police officers identify as such.
The BHRC recently proposed legislation to the City Council to bridge the trust gap between police and minorities in Binghamton. If passed, the law would require an enforced ban on racial profiling, better tracking and analysis of police stops, cultural competency and anti-racism training courses and a public plan to diversify the police department.
Although the law was only proposed earlier in March, Gina Abrams, a senior double-majoring in psychology and human development, said that the initial dialogue needs student as well as local voices.
“This is our community,” Abrams said. “You have to be accountable to some extent for what happens in it, be aware of the issues and be active in the community.”