If you’re a young African American male living on Chicago’s West Side, you’re likely to have a testimony similar to Keith Jenkins. In a 2014 interview with Austin Weekly News, Jenkins, 22, said that he was stopped by police while walking to his job at the Westside Health Authority, 5417 W. Division St.
“They asked me if I had a gun,” he said. “They patted me down. Everybody knows I work at the Westside Health Authority. I was on my way here.”
Jenkins was subjected to the law enforcement tactic often referred to as “stop and frisk.” It’s also called a “Terry stop” after the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court decision Terry v. Ohio, which made it constitutional for police officers to stop you if they reasonably suspect that you have committed, are committing, or are about to commit, a crime.
Recently, however, the stops have come under intense scrutiny by legal and law enforcement experts across the country. In 2013, a federal judge ruled the New York City Police Department’s use of the stops unconstitutional. And then-candidate Bill de Blasio’s victory in the city’s 2013 mayoral election was, in large part, secured by his vigorous opposition to the tactic. Since his election, de Blasio has reined in the NYPD’s use of the tactic.
Chicago made strides of its own to more closely regulate the use of stop and frisk with the announcement last week that the Chicago Police Department (CPD), the City of Chicago and the ACLU have reached an agreement to subject CPD’s use of stop and frisk to independent evaluation.
The “landmark” agreement, according to a joint statement released by the ACLU and CPD, is an alternative to “expensive, time-consuming, and burdensome litigation” and is the result of months of negotiations between the three entities.
In March, the ACLU released a report analyzing CPD’s deployment of stop and frisk, concluding that Chicagoans were Terry stopped four times as often as New Yorkers “at the height of New York City’s stop and frisk practice.” Moreover, the report found Chicago’s black residents, who only comprise 32 percent of its population, were subjected to 72 percent of all stops.
Last summer, CPD made more than 250,000 stops that did not lead to an arrest, the ACLU reported.
Behind those numbers are the experiences of people like Jenkins and his fellow WHA workers, who said what police officers often consider reasonable suspicion may actually be ill-formed assumptions and stereotypes.
“Say a group of us is standing on the south side of the street doing nothing and there’s a group of white guys on the other side of the street also doing nothing,” said Tevin Smith in a 2014 interview. “The police are not going to look at the white guys, they’re going to be looking straight towards us and pull us over. They say two is crowd and three is a group.”
“They never ask you your name,” said Malik Philpot, 18. “It’s always, ‘when was the last time you were locked up?'”
“The problem with the police is that, if you tell them your rights, they think you’re getting smart,” said Latayshia Chreets, 20. “They expect us not to believe that we know our rights, so they expect us to do whatever they tell us to do.”
In 2013, the Chicago Tribune reported CPD Superintendent Garry McCarthy, a former deputy commissioner with the NYPD, pressured rank-and-file officers to collect contact cards.
“Contact cards go back decades as a tool for Chicago police. If officers stop a person on the street but don’t make an arrest, they are required to jot down the age, address, race, time and location, and reason for the stop,” the Tribune reported. “The contact cards can be helpful to police in keeping track of gangbangers and solving crimes.”
But Antonio Brown, the father of slain 7-year-old Amari Brown, says the police sometimes create the very gangbangers they seek to track. In July, Brown’s son was fatally shot in Humboldt Park while watching a Fourth of July fireworks display.
In the aftermath of the shooting, McCarthy described Brown as a ranking gang member, said he was the intended target of the bullet that hit his son and noted, had Brown, who is out on bail after an arrest on gun charges, been in jail, his son would be alive.
“I ain’t in no gang, period,” Brown said in a recent interview with Austin Weekly News inside Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St. Brown, who is heavily tattooed, said none of the markings depict gang insignia.
“They got me down for a Four Corner Hustler, they got me down for a Traveler, they got me down for all type of stuff,” he said. “I’m none of those. I’m a man before I’m anything … I’ve got tattoos of some of everything, but I’m not in a gang.”
Brown’s best friend, Kevin Ross, 33, said police often stop young black men in his West Side neighborhood with the assumption that they’re gang members. He said the police often approach them with the question, ‘Who are you all with?’
“Now, once I say, ‘I ain’t nothing,’ they say, ‘Awe yeah? You this you, you that …'” Brown said.
Ross said that police often peg those who claim no gang affiliation as members of whichever gang dominates the area in which those people were stopped.
The Tribune noted in 2013 that in the first 10 months of that year, police had collected more than 600,000 contact cards, more than the 516,500 and the 379,000 filled out in 2012 and 2011 — when McCarthy took office — respectively.
A New York City police captain told the Tribune that the marked uptick in contact cards presented “a major red flag” and a University of Chicago law professor told the paper the practice risked weakening relationships between the police and residents in the city’s most crime-ridden areas — a point that McCarthy seemed to tacitly acknowledge in his statements about the ACLU agreement.
“As the men and women of the Chicago Police Department work to make our city safer and identify the small subset of individuals who torment our neighborhoods with violence, it is imperative that we use every tool and resource in a way that is not only lawful but respectful of the residents we serve,” McCarthy noted in a statement.
“[T]his unprecedented agreement with the ACLU is a demonstration of CPD’s commitment to fairness, respect, transparency, and underscores our willingness to work side by side with everyone as we work toward our shared goal of keeping our neighborhoods safe.”
As part of the agreement, former U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys will be responsible for evaluating the city’s stop and frisk practices and procedures; produce two reports a year on his stop and frisk investigation; and, if necessary, make recommendations to the CPD for changes to its stop and frisk policy. The city and CPD will collect proper data on the stops to be used by Judge Keys to determine their legality.
The agreement, which went into effect when it was announced last week, also calls for more police training, “designed to ensure that investigatory stops in Chicago are conducted only where there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and that protective pat downs are performed only when legally justified.” The training will be reinforced by regular audits, which may result in disciplinary action for officers who violate the enhanced procedures.
In a statement on the ACLU’s website, Karen Sheley, a senior staff counsel with the organization, noted the recent agreement “relies not only on promises but also on specific verification of how CPD officers are interacting with the public on neighborhood streets all across the City.”