Millions of New Yorkers have been subject to a New York Police Department stop-and-frisk — and one Twitter account is telling their story, 140 characters at a time.
The account, @StopAndFrisk, was created last month by New York-based developer Simon Lawrence and journalist Michele Lent Hirsch to put a social spotlight on the controversial NYPD practice. Stop-and-frisk allows police to stop somebody they believe has committed, is in the process of committing, or is about to commit a crime. Police can search the stopped person if they have grounds to believe they are in danger, sometimes leading to arrests on drug charges when illegal substances are found on stopped persons.
Each tweet features the subject’s age, location and police reason for making the stop, per records made available by the New York Civil Liberties Union. It does not include the subject’s race, as the creators feel the racial bias of stop-and-frisk (55% of those stopped last year were black, 30% latino) has been well-covered by other media. It uses a photograph of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a fierce defender of stop-and-frisk, as its profile image.
“The thought was, let’s look at individuals, their age, and when they were stopped,” Lawrence told Mashable. “The idea was to bring a more human face to the raw stats and to put information out there that people may not be as familiar with — like the reason NYPD stopped people [might be] wearing clothes commonly used in a crime. What are clothes commonly worn in a crime?”
The Stop and Frisk account resembles Dronestagram, an Instagram account populated by satellite images of villages struck by a U.S. drone aircraft.
“I haven’t actually seen that one, so I can’t say directly,” said Lawrence when asked if Dronestagram was an inspiration for the project. “But we’re operating on the same idea, bringing a face to these numbers. People think, ‘Oh, they stopped 600 people, that’s bad’ — but when you’re seeing they stopped a 12-year-old using force or something like that, that humanizes it a little bit.”
Lawrence said they originally wanted to tweet at the same rate the NYPD stops suspects, but then realized that would be too frequent for Twitter to handle.
“One of the reasons we use Twitter is we wanted to have this steady drumbeat of stops just like one stop after the other, after the other, after the other, and these are all people being harassed by the police,” he said. “We actually wanted to tweet at the rate the NYPD stops people. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do that because Twitter would’ve blocked us — it would’ve been too much.”
Is @StopAndFrisk an effective way to tell the story behind a controversial NYPD policy?