Parellels of street harassment & police harassment

May 5, 2011

Stopping street harassment is going to take women and men. The problem is that it’s often viewed as a woman’s issue alone, which clearly neglects that the majority of those who harass are men. As a Black man, I seldom worry about going somewhere having a person make unwanted advances, touching my person, or live in the constant fear that any moment I could be accosted.

Or do I?

In hearing the testimonies of women enduring street harassment, I couldn’t help but hear the testimonies of young men of color regarding police harassment. While street harassment and police harassment have key difference, in many important ways they’re similar.* Here are three important parallels:

It’s everywhere– I live in New York City, the mecca of diversity. However, when you look at the stop-and-frisk numbers for the city you find that Black and Latino (predominantly male) residents are singled out. In 2009, of 576,394 stops and frisks were performed and 84 percent of them were on Blacks and Latinos. This is astronomically high, given that Black and Latino compose roughly 26 and 27 percent of the population respectively. The harassment that men of color often undergo via the police is a constant pressure. When walking through Harlem, I routinely see Black boys approached by undercover officers and forced to submit to “random searches.”

These searches are anything but random and serve to make young boys and men feel unsafe in their own communities. In the same way that young men of color are subject to an “invisible force” that disrupts their life without consent, young women of color feel the same. Somehow we live in communities where both men and women of color feel unsafe, displaced and harmed by harassment. Neither forms of harassment lead to safer communities or healthy relationships.

It’s illegal- When we look at the stop-and-frisk data from NYC we see the number on reason someone is stopped and frisked is “furtive movement.” Do you know what that is? Me neither. In fact, you’re not supposed to! The goal is to find any reason possible to stop and deter you from going where you’re going or living your life peacefully. Sound familiar?

Of course disproportionately stopping and frisking people is illegal, just as street harassment should be, but too many of us turn a blind eye to both. It’s going to take those that are the most and the least affected by street harassment and police harassment to come together to fight them. One sided action is not enough.

Knowledge is Powerful!

The Center for Constitutional Rights and Hollaback! have begun to carefully documenting the incidents of harassment. But we all must realize documentation is not enough! As organizers and members of communities, we need to create models that reduce levels of harassment, increase feelings of safety, and heal wounds within communities where gender violence, police violence, and all forms of violence have cracked the foundation.

Here in New York, I work with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement which has developed as Know Your Rights campaign for communities of African descent. The People’s Self-Defense campaign is ultimately designed to give community members the tools to develop healthy communities that are safe spaces for all people, not a select few. Simply pointing at the problem will not cause it to change; instead strategic coalition building and intersectional approaches will be the proving ground for our collective to stop street harassment. The moment is ripe for collaboration and growth, but only if we can see the common harms and develop diverse responses to them.  

*One of the first things I ever learned in organizing and doing work was “don’t do analogs.” While this is good advice, in some cases analogs are essential to creating buy-in from those who may not always see the “relevance” of a social problem. Admittedly there are differences between the two, but as an organizer I’m more interested in getting people to see the common ground so we can develop diverse solutions to these problems.

Dr. L’Heureux Dumi Lewis, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Black Studies at the City College of New York

This post is part of the weekly blog series by male allies. We need men involved in the work to end the social acceptability of street harassment and to stop the practice, period. If you’d like to contribute to this weekly series, please contact me.

“We were told we should not be out at that time of night”

March 26, 2011

My Girlfriend and I (we’re lesbian) were walking down the street at midnight in Swansea on a Saturday evening, a male in a car propositions us for sex and makes comments about my legs. in the end I tell him to F**CK off, he then follows us into a car park where my car was park. He only retreats when he sees and hears me call the police.

The police were not one bit interested. In fact we were told we should not be out at that time of night as if it was OUR fault! knowing a bit about how to defend myself as well as my rights, as well as what the police should really be doing I challenged him, he then backtracked and claimed that was his personal opinion.

After complaints to the police, who were still not interested, my persistence and help from my AM Edwina Hart the offender was finally given a warning.

A few weeks later we saw two police officers in a van around about the same location leering at us.. Male police officers are as bad as anyone. Just check out the number of warnings and arrests for prostitution and then the number of men warned or prosecuted for soliciting women for sex… tells you all you want to know about South Wales Police.

– Anonymous

Location: Swansea High Street, South Wales, United Kingdom

Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem. Find suggestions for what YOU can do about this human rights issue.

Undercover cop harasses woman at grocery store, then pulls a gun

February 17, 2011

I would like to share a harassment story which was the scariest harassment experience in my life. It occurred almost a year ago, February 25, 2010. I am currently telling my story to local news media, in hopes that it will be published so women can be aware of the type of injustice that women go through so they know that they are not alone.

On February 25, 2010, I entered Shoppers grocery store in Largo, MD, to do some shopping. I had been dropped off by my younger brother (16) and he went into another store in the shopping center. Now around that time I had been getting street harassed so much that I was literally scared to go anywhere by myself. I had asked my brother to come into the store with me but he said that he was going to McDonalds and would meet me later.

As I entered the store I scanned my surroundings and I saw a guy who was in an aisle close to the entrance (my harassment experiences causes me to this). I had my headphones in my ear but my music turned off.

Anyway, as soon as I entered the specific aisle I needed to go to I could hear someone behind me. Ironically now the guy who was in the aisle close to the entrance is now behind me as soon as I stop (interesting huh). He starts frowning and asks me in a rude tone, “Are you just gonna stand in the middle of the isle like that?”

I was baffled because I was the only one in the isle and I am only 5’4 and medium build. There was no way I could have been in his way. Based on all my harassment experiences I was pretty sure what was going on, he was trying to harass me. It was no coincidence that he was towards the entrance of the store when I entered and saw him and as soon as I stopped, he was behind me.

I calmly said,”You don’t have to talk to me like that just because I’m a woman. How was I supposed to know you’re behind me?”

As I was rationally saying this, the guy was mumbling over me, he then slid past me (without me moving an inch) and said, “Why don’t you learn to turn your music down and maybe you’ll hear.”

Now as I mentioned I had headphones but know music and the reason was because of stuff like this. I’m TIRED of guys harassing me and this one was using this as a reason to harass me.

He appeared to be in his late 20s/early 30s. Who is he to come into a store and talk to another adult like this? I then told him he was ignorant…you know what he did? He leaned forward and YELLS in my face that I am ignorant. At this point we had an argument because I was pretty damn tired.

I am so tired of males harassing me whenever I’m by myself. It has affected me to the point where I no longer feel safe and at that point I was 25 years old and had years of street harassment under my belt. This was not the first time a male had harassed me in the grocery store either, but this one was more aggressive and I was damn sick of it!

Anyways a crowd started to form because we were yelling at each other and I became embarrassed. I know moved to another aisle and told him our conversation was over and you know what happened? He followed me into the next aisle with a big smirk on his face and continued to yell at me. That was IT!

I called my brother and vented about what happened and he was disgusted. I would always tell him about how guys would bother me in public and he always thought I was being dramatic. Well this time it happened with him being right across the street. This is where things got a little messy.

I wasn’t aware that my brother had met up with three of his high school buddies in the McDonalds and he didn’t tell me he was with them. Anyways he came to the store and when he met me in an aisle, he had one of his friends with him (I didn’t even know he had two other friends wating for him). Anyways he asked me where the guy was and I pointed him out.

I’ll never forget the look on the harasser’s face when he saw my brother. He looked like he got caugh t doing something he knew he wasn’t supposed to be doing. He knew he was wrong but just didn’t care. Now I had protection and he didn’t like that.

Anyways, my brother asked what the guy’s issue with me was, you know what the guy said? I aint got s— to say to you.

Can you imagine?

So, he could harass me, follow me, and yell at me, but had nothing to say to my little bro? Interesting, well I guess that’s how harassment works.

Anyways the guy walked towards our direction from the opposite end of the aisle, but as as he was walking my brother maintained eye contact with him and my brother  stood in front of me, blocking him from getting any closer to me.

Guess what the harasser did next?

He pulled out a gun and pointed it my brother and his friend. My brother told me to run and we all ran for dear life. I didn’t even know my brother had two other friends that he knew in the store and when they saw us running they tried to follow and guess what? The guy grabbed them.

As I ran out the store the store’s security followed ME as if I stole something. He told me to stop but I didn’t because I didn’t know if the guy was going to shoot me. I was outside at this point and my brother told the security to get his hands off of me cause we were running due to some guy brandishing a gun.

Me, my brother, and his friend (who was only 14) ran to the car. I threw up from anxiety as soon as I got in the car. As we pulled out of the lot I asked my brother about the two other kids in the store and he said nothing. We soon recieved a phone call.

When my brother answered the phone it was a PG police officer stating that my the guy I had gotten into it with was an MPD Forensics Police Officer and they had two of his friends who just happened to be in the store. They said I needed to come to the store and give a statement. I came back and explained everything as I am now, how this bastard went out of his way to harass me for no reason and then pulled a firearm on my brother when confronted (police told me he stated he felt threatned smh).

My thing is if he was felt threatened well then where did he get off harassing me? Anyways I gave a statement and the police gave me his name and badge and Lieutenant’s name so I could report him. I filed a formal complaint with his Lt. He was exonerated.

They said that based on the fact that there were multiple people in the store who knew my brother it ‘appeared’ to be an attack. Even though they never apporached him and he actually grabbed them.

Also, while I was getting harassed no one said anything (some grown black males were actually laughing). Anyways, the Lt. said based on witnesses they claimed I was being more combative (interesting huh ) especially since no one was around when he approached.

She even told me to own up to my culpability and tried to infer that I planned an attack. There’s a difference between a confrontation and an attack. What the officer did was an attack. Also, how was I to know he had friends with him (and they didn’t approach the harasser anyways).

When I filed an appeal a Lt. from invesitgative services bureau looked into the incident and found misconduct on the officer’s behavior because even if he was threatened he should have announced himself. He made recommendations for punishments and the officer’s commander overuled and just gave him a verbal repirmanding.

I was disgusted and am now trying to make local news media aware of my experience. MPD has made me lose faith and respect for them.

I am a woman who was minding her own business and one of their officers went out of his way to harass/intimidate me. At the time I didn’t understand why he was carrying on in the way he was because there was no reasonable reason for it. He literally walked up to me when I was alone and started lashing out at me.

I now know he was doing it becaus he had a gun and is liscensed to carry one along with a badge. They bought this animal’s excuse that he felt threatened by kids??? I know that there are some reckless youth now, but how could they buy that when he had just finished harassing a woman (someone who was defenseless against him)? I don’t understand.

And if his malicious behavior wasn’t bad to them, then what did we do to get a gun pulled in front of us? I believe in a higher power and one day this bastard will have to answer to treating a woman and kids like this.

Anyways, I just wanted to get my story out there (Internal Affairs) is currently going over all the evidence cause they know I’m making my story public.

I am welcome to comments and suggestions about any other alternatives to handling this incident. May I add that this incident has made me even more scared to be by myself than ever before.

For a minute, I thought he was going to kill us and I really think that’s what he wanted, to put us in absolute fear for our lives. Which is why he didn’t announce he was an officer.

I don’t feel safe anywhere in public because I’ve been harassed just about any and everywhere. On the street, the mall, the grocery store, the corner store, at work, the gas station, the subway (I refuse to take the subway after a few scary incidents), EVERY DAMN WHERE.

Nobody deserves to be attacked like this for no reason, it’s just wrong. Why can’t they just let me live my life in peace. Every time I see a male (that’s the same race as my harassers) I flinch because it’s not even a matter of them trying to flirt. It’s more about will they try to verbally attack/ assault me or are they carrying a weapon. My eyes literally starts twitching. I actually tried to see if I could sue him for assault (pulling the gun) but found I couldn’t because I had no injuries and I didn’t seek therapy for any mental trauma. I’m so tempted to out him on this site (name and badge number) but I won’t for legal reasons.

Anyways, I’m open to comments and suggestions….

– Nigeria Sista

Location: Shoppers, Largo, Maryland

Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem. Find suggestions for what YOU can do about this human rights issue.

Police officer harasser in New Orleans

November 28, 2010

I thought I had seen just about every form of harassment until Monday night/ early Tuesday morning. I had posted an incident on this site this past summer. The cop that I had given the benefit of the doubt to, thinking maybe he just didn’t witness me being attacked, ended up being the worst harasser I have ever come across.

I came across him for the 3rd time two nights ago. I was on Bourbon street debating on whether or not I should go to work. I stopped at my one strip club which was empty. I spent time talking to the DJ and Doorman. Then I headed towards another club to see if anyone was there. Again it was dead. As I was turning around a group of people (both men and women) called me over. We got into a conversation. They were tourist so I gave them my usual advice – go to Frenchmen Street or any where but Bourbon. I was mid sentence talking to another girl when the Cop in a golf cart pulls up. He calls me over and tells me I have to get off of Bourbon Street.

WTF? I actually did a double take.

This time I knew I didn’t do anything wrong. Once before he had kicked me off the PUBLIC street because I didn’t have an ID (I again excused his behavior, “maybe he didn’t think I was 21” I reasoned). When I informed him that it was my right to be on the street especially, since I live and work there. He suggested I was a hooker. I was furious but kept my cool. I had to buy stripper shoes and I told him as much. He followed me to the shoe store in his little golf cart. His hostility actually scared me. I just knew that my challenging his authority was going to end badly.

I stopped back at my one club and told the doorman about the Cop. I was really mad but, also freaked out. I didn’t want him to follow me all the way down Bourbon where it gets more deserted and where I live. I asked if I could wait in the club until the Cop turned around and passed by again so I could walk home without the hassle. I had no such luck!

I was waiting at the bar in my club and the next thing I know the Cop is pushing past the door guy, bouncers and manager, demanding that I step outside. I went without a fuss and asked what I was in trouble for. The answer: prostitution. Mostly though he was pissed I didn’t get off of Bourbon St. I’m sorry I didn’t want to walk 10 blocks on a deserted street. On a weekend when streets are packed I avoid Bourbon like the plague – not on a Monday when things are dead. I try to stay safe.

Even worse, talking to other women I discovered this is the Cop’s MO – He kicks young women, some strippers some not, off of Bourbon Street on the pretense that we are all prostitutes. If you are not with a male he has no problem banishing you to a darkened side street. I felt like I walked into another dimension when I got arrested. I still prefer the day I spent in jail to risking my safety. I want to face him in court and prove that I’m innocent and he is a sexist bully unfit for NOPD.

– Megan Kelley

Location: New Orleans, LA

Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem. Include your location and it will be added to the Street Harassment Map.