NEW YORK: Back in 1998, 14-year-old Alfredo Carrasquillo and his friends were heading to a Bronx apartment where they planned to smoke pot and listen to some Tupac when a cop car pulled up on the curb “as if it was a movie or something.”
The cops ordered Carrasquillo and his friends to stand against a fence and then began patting them down and going through their pockets. “I knew I had a bag of weed on me but I wasn’t going to volunteer myself to be arrested,” Carrasquillo said. “Then one officer finds the weed and he says, ‘You should have told me about it before, but now I’m going to have to take you in.’”
That incident — and the night in jail that followed — was Carrasquillo’s introduction to the practice known as stop-and-frisk, a lynchpin of police policy in New York since the mid-’90s that has only grown more pervasive since Carrasquillo’s youth.
Every year in New York City, the police stop hundreds of thousands of people and frisk them for guns and drugs, often arresting them for possession of small amounts of pot. Largely because the vast majority of those stopped and arrested are black and Latino, this practice has caused an uproar, culminating in a bill introduced on Wednesday that would legalize marijuana in the state. Carrasquillo, who is black, Puerto Rican and Cuban, has become a prominent figure in the debate.
The morning after the bill was announced, Carrasquillo spoke about his history of pot arrests while sitting at the Brooklyn headquarters of VOCAL-NY, the drug-reform advocacy group that employs him as a community organizer.
He described feeling unsafe when he was growing up in the South Bronx — and not because of the violent crime that was so common in the area. “You start thinking, ‘Oh, I can’t go down this block because I’m gonna get searched on this block,” he said. “You start feeling you don’t have any rights anymore.”
Carrasquillo estimates he’s been arrested on marijuana charges about 20 times in his life, and although most of the charges were dropped, he said the arrests made it hard for him to get a job until he found his calling as a community organizer. “No one directly said, ‘We’re not going to hire you because of your arrest record,’ but for some reason I was never hired,” he said.