The NYPD’s stop and frisk practices are putting New Yorkers at risk for HIV and other health problems, according to a coalition of people living with HIV/AIDS, syringe exchange participants, sex workers, LGBTQ youth, human rights advocates and service providers who gathered at City Hall during a VOCAL-sponsored rally on May 3, 2013. The coalition called for passage of the Community Safety Act as an important step towards preventing the NYPD from interfering with public health programs.
The NYPD was criticized for confiscating syringes and condoms found during street stops and arresting people, even though syringe exchange and condom promotion programs are funded by the City to prevent the spread of HIV, hepatitis C, STIs and unwanted pregnancies.
“Practicing harm reduction or safer sex shouldn’t be a crime, but that’s the message the NYPD sends when they arrest people for carrying syringes or defend using condoms as evidence of prostitution-related offenses” said Hiawatha Collins, a VOCAL-NY Board member and leader, a grassroots organization that works to end HIV/AIDS, mass incarceration and the war on drugs. “Let’s face it, the NYPD’s use of stop and frisk is incompatible with Mayor Bloomberg’s own public health efforts.”
“NYPD’s stop and frisk practices are doing nothing to increase public safety. Instead, they are getting in the way of public health because NYPD officers often confiscate condoms found during street searches and use them as evidence to justify an arrest for prostitution-related offenses,” said Chris Bilal, a youth leader at Streetwise and Safe (SAS), an organization that works on policing of LGBTQ youth of color. “This is why we need City Council to pass strong protections against profiling based not only on race and religion, but also based on gender, sexual orientation, and age – so that condoms can’t be used to profile women of color and LGBTQ youth of color, so that condoms won’t be considered evidence of intent to engage in prostitution-related offenses, so that having condoms on you will only be evidence of pride, community, common sense, and safety.”
Fania Febres from Make the Road NY said: “About a year ago, I was walking on Roosevelt Ave from 69 St. I stopped in front of Music Box, on 74th St and Roosevelt to talk to a friend. I had two condoms on my bra. After I said goodbye to my friends I kept walking, and about a block later, some undercover cops stopped and searched me. They found the condoms and I was arrested on prostitution charges. This practice of using condoms as evidence needs to stop. We want to be able to carry condoms as young people to protect ourselves, but now I am afraid to carry them. It’s a threat to the public health to this city and it puts us all at risk.”
“Police officers who arrest or harass people for carrying syringes are not only ignoring the law, they’re putting the safety and lives of New Yorkers at risk,” said Council Member Jumaane Williams. “Mayor Bloomberg has shown leadership in supporting syringe access programs as a life-saving public health measure. We need the NYPD to do the same when it comes to the impact that stop and frisk has on efforts to prevent HIV and hepatitis C among people who inject drugs. Through the passage of the Community Safety Act, all New Yorkers can be confident that bias-based profiling or harassment against them will not be tolerated and that an independent oversight mechanism will exist to help ensure public safety for all.”
“This is yet another example of the administration’s inconsistencies between laudable policy goals and actual practice,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “We cannot allow stop and frisk to undermine our city’s efforts to promote public health through vital programs like needle exchange and condom distribution. This issue perfectly illustrates the importance of both the Profiling and Inspector General bills, which will bring additional protections from discriminatory police practices and much-needed systemic oversight of the NYPD.”
“When police profile based on gender identity or sexual orientation or when they use needles or condoms as evidence of wrongdoing, they are falsely criminalizing young LGBT individuals and vulnerable populations with HIV/AIDS,” said Council Member Margaret Chin. “In my district, I’ve heard from youth advocates who have been stopped simply because they were transgender. We must fight against policies that traumatize our youth and create a climate where it is not okay to use condoms and where it’s safer not to carry syringes even if it’s the difference between using a clean needle or not. This is a real public health concern – and why the Community Safety Act is so important for my community.”
“The way in which the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk policy is carried out is problematic for many reasons, its negative public health implications being one of them,” said Council Member Debi Rose. “I believe it is having a huge impact on the health of victims and their communities. They are dealing with the stress of worrying about being stopped when they leave their homes, and then the post-traumatic stress impact after experiencing one of these encounters. Stress can lead to poorer physical and mental health. Another negative public health byproduct of how the policy is implemented is that New Yorkers – mostly women of color and LGBTQ people –are being stopped and frisked and arrested for prostitution if they have a condom on their person, even though the city actually encourages people to use condoms as part of its public health policy to prevent disease and unwanted pregnancy. For these and many other reasons, the Stop and Frisk policy needs strong review and oversight, which the Community Safety Act would provide.”
“NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactics are undermining New York City’s HIV prevention efforts,” said Margaret Wurth, consultant with the Health and Human Rights Division at Human Rights Watch. “New York City distributes more than 35 million condoms each year, but the police are taking them out of the hands of those who need them the most.”
A recent report by Drug Policy Alliance and the New York Academy of Medicine, Blueprint for a Public Health and Safety Approach to Drug Policy, explores how New York City’s current approaches to drug policy work at cross-purposes. One of the best examples of our contradictory approaches is arrests for syringe possession.
“I have been an outreach worker for almost a decade and every day I hear another participant tell me officers ripped up their card, made inaccurate claims about syringe laws, and made an illegal arrest,” said Liam Gibson, Peer Mentor at the New York Harm Reduction Educators (NYHRE). “We educate our participants about their rights and their health, Ray Kelly needs to educate the officers about the law.”