The Philadelphia Police Department received what is likely an unwanted gift Tuesday afternoon: two pairs of men’s underwear.
The symbolic gesture was courtesy of Black Lives Matter Movement Pennsylvania, a local chapter of the national organization, in protest of so-called “stop-and-fondle” practices recently exposed by Philadelphia Daily News.
Enraged by a story published last week chronicling instances of young, black men being stopped and their bodies illegally searched, Philadelphia activist Asa Khalif delivered a powerful message via megaphone:
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“It is illegal to stop and frisk. It is illegal to go into someone’s underwear and touch their penis. Touch their buttocks. You think it’s common practice and it’s legal, but it’s not,” he bellowed outside police headquarters in Center City.
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While overall instances of stop-and-frisk have decreased in recent years, Philadelphia police stop young black and brown men at higher rates than other people, according to a report issued by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“This report shows a continuing pattern of significant racial disparities in stops and frisks in Philadelphia that are not explained by non-racial factors such as crime rates or police deployment,” said David Rudovsky of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, on behalf of plaintiffs.
“Racial justice must be more than a goal. It is the hallmark of fair policing and the requirement of the consent decree.”
The ACLU report is part of an ongoing monitoring process ordered in 2011.
“The consent decree requires that stops be made only when there is reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct, that frisks only occur where the officer has reasonable suspicion that the suspect is armed and dangerous, and that these police interventions not be based on the suspect’s race or ethnicity,” the ACLU said in a statement.
But recent numbers suggests the police department has changed little by way of racially-motivated stops. More than 77 percent of police stops in 2016 involved black or brown pedestrians.
Even more problematic, however, is so-called “stop-and-fondle” in which police officers search the underwear and body cavities of suspects in public.
Legally, invasive strip searches are to be conducted in a police or medical building after a suspect has been arrested. The arresting officer must have reasonable suspicion that individual is hiding additional contraband. The highest-ranking district or unit supervisor must authorize the additional search in writing.
But strip searches are so common that many people think they are legal, Khalif said. His uncle, a military veteran, has been subjected to these stops on a number of occasions.
It’s “standard police culture in black and brown neighborhoods,” he said, adding that it is tantamount to sexual assault.
“It’s humiliating. Dehumanizing,” he said. “I understand the feeling of hopelessness. It brings up all types of issues with black youth especially.”
Philadelphia police did not return calls for a comment at the time this story was published. Capt. Sekou Kinebrew previously told the Daily News that he is unaware of the practice and encouraged victims to file a formal complaint if they felt violated.
To address the problem, Khalif and fellow activists have volunteered to fund trauma counseling for several young men who endured these strip searches.
He is also planning to “disrupt” Mayor Jim Kenney and Commissioner Richard Ross until the police department agrees to change its policies.