Shaping the Narrative through Arts and Technology: Youth Activism in Stop-and-Frisk

Youth activism in stop-and-frisk is often overlooked in mass media.  Much of the news regarding stop-and-frisk is centered on the class-action lawsuits filed by Communities United for Police Reform (CPR), a collective made up of several organizations, including  Center for Constitutional Rights, Make the Road-NY, New York Civil Liberties Union, Picture the Homeless and Bronx Defenders.

With the focus on these high-profile efforts to end stop-and-frisk, the individual and collective efforts led by youth are often overlooked.  These efforts at the local community level often include an array of micro-mobilizations such as “know-your-rights” campaigns, “cop-watch” projects, community meetings and video storytelling, as well as door-to-door advocacy, that are much less documented than the court cases which garner lots of press attention.  Considered together these community-based efforts demonstrate the ability of youth to advocate for neighborhood change.  

It’s been well documented that the communities most affected by the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policing strategy are also characterized by low civic engagement and pessimism regarding the likelihood of neighborhood improvement (Rengifo & Slocum, 2011 in, “Police stops and community responses in the context of the New York crime decline“). The reality of youth mobilizations counter these prevailing ideas about these communities and demonstrate that the creativity and intelligence young people bring to these issues should not be overlooked. Particularly, as academics will be getting together to discuss deeper reforms (see the new Academic Advisory Council that will help implement stop-and-frisk reforms.)

Here’s just a short list of examples of some of these youth-driven and community-based responses to stop-and-frisk:

  • NLG-NYC Street Law Team, is made up of a group of law students from various New York City law schools.  These students meet with community groups throughout NYC and conduct free Know Your Rights: What to Do if You’re Stopped by the Police workshops.
  • NYC High School Youth from the Peapod Adobe Youth Voices Academy at Urban Arts produced, directed, and scored the documentary, Unreasonable Suspicion, which explores the causes and effects of stop-and-frisk.
  • 16-year-old NYC Black and Latino male, Cory Smith, created this photomontage which won first price at a Resilience Advocacy Project’s (RAP) “Youth Experiences of Stop-and-Frisk Told Through Art” contest.  The photomontange features a young man at the edge of the frame: he is seated facing its bottom left corner, shoulders hunched forward, hands folded in his lap.
stop and frisk nyc youth

Photo Credit: Cory Smith

These examples highlight two powerful lessons for the Academic Advisory Council and for academics looking to further study stop-and-frisk:

(1) The arts and technology are powerful mediums for not only engaging youth, but changing narratives and helping often-marginalized voices be heard.   These two combined can help overcome some of the pessimism and low civic engagement that often affect youth in low-income neighborhoods.

(2) The youth voice should be integrated into the discussion of police reforms and community healing.  New research should consider innovative strategies to capture the traction of these youth-led movements and to help amplify their voice and impact.

If you are feeling inspired by these youth efforts, here are a few things you can do to participate in stop-and-frisk discussions and events:

  • Have a Smartphone? Encourage everyone you know to download the Stop-and-Frisk app and report any instances of stop-and-frisk that you see in the community.
  • Are you on Twitter? Join the conversation and learn about local advocacy efforts by following these hashtags: #stopandfrisk, #Floyd, #communitysafetyact.
  • Work with youth? Contact NLG-NYC Street Law Tea at to set up a free “know your rights” workshop for your group. 
  • Feeling social?  Attend a local stop-and-frisk event and meet and collaborate with other activists.  This website features upcoming events: ChangetheNYPD.

For another discussion on youth involvement in stop-and-frisk, check out Morgane Richardson’s post on Envisioning A Better Future: Youth Action Against Stop-and-Frisk.  And for academics interested in getting involved in stop-and-frisk policy making, make sure to read, Julie Netherland’s post: Tips for Academics Who Want to Engage Policymakers.