This commentary by Kilusan Bautista originally appeared in The FilAm.
A U.S. District Court ruled recently that the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactics are “racially discriminatory” against Black and Latino populations. Although city officials have cited the practice as contributing to the low crime rate, Judge Shira Scheindlin said the practice is being used “in a manner that intentionally discriminates based on race.”
Poet and performance artist Kilusan Bautista is probably one of the few Filipinos who have been subjected to this police tactic. He writes of his experience in 2011 while on his way home. The episode ended with a laugh, but not before Kilusan learned that in New York, you can be stopped by the cops on the basis of the color of your clothes.
If you walk down Broadway Street in Queens, New York, please be very careful. On Jan 13th, 2011, I was forcibly pulled over by the New York Police Department because I had my hair braided and I was wearing a San Francisco Giants sports coat.
On a cold NYC winter’s night I was minding my own business, talking to a good friend from California about how we can continue to strive for success when an undercover police car, filled with three men, all wearing thick coats and beanies, quickly turned onto the side of the street and screamed, “Freeze.” I calmly told my friend to stay on the line because I was being held up by the cops. I also knew that if anything shady happened I would have someone who could testify on my behalf. So I left my cell phone on in my pocket.
One of the cops rudely asked me what I was doing. I told them, “I’m walking home!” I put my hands in my coat pocket because I had no gloves on and it was freezing. One of the cops screamed, “Get your hands out of your pocket!” Another cop asked, “What gang are you a part of?” I laughed and responded, “How do you figure I’m a part of a gang?”
The questioning officer smirked, “You have braids and you’re wearing gang colors. Why are you wearing black and orange?” My mouth almost dropped to the ground, “Because the Giants just won the world series!”
I told them that I was a former teacher and a professional artist. The last officer asked me, “What does your hat mean?” I proudly asserted, “Kilusan means movement in Tagalog, a language in the Philippines.” They got louder, “Well we still have to ask because this is gang territory!”
I went on to say that not everyone with braids and wearing sports coats is a part of a gang. The officer who told me to take my hands out of my pocket began to dig for something and so he asked me for my I.D. I confidently gave it to him and he smartly remarked, “Why do you still have a Brooklyn address?” In an irritated tone I firmly said, “This is New York City, people move all the time!” Oh, he didn’t like that and reminded me, “It’s the law to change your address within 10 days of moving.”
I was like whatever, you got nothing to arrest me but I stayed respectful because I was on a dark and empty street, flashes of the Oscar Grant Injustice in Oakland, Calif. ran through my mind as well as the growing tide of racism sparking in Arizona — all in all made me think twice about getting smart with the cops.
The lead officer just walked back in their undercover car and gave me a dirty look before he sat in the passenger seat. I went ahead and told the remaining officers about not judging people based on their appearances because you may be harassing a teacher. I ended the evening by saying, “I hope the Giants and Yankees make it to the World Series next year.”
I grabbed my jacket with both of my hands and pushed out the San Francisco symbol. They laughed and the night was done.
Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation and the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation.