Our StreetS | Our Bodies | Our Voices: Re-Centering Black Communities in How We Think About Public Safety / by Autumn Robinson

By Raven Cras, BYP100 NYC Organizer

What does safety look like to you?  

In a city where 89% of pedestrians stopped by police are non-white, public opinion  maintains that racial profiling is arbitrary and non-systematic. Media discussions about police presence and harassment in predominantly Black areas often leave out the most marginalized and affected voices - Black community members. New efforts from young organizers from the New York City chapter of  The Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) are purposefully re-centering the voices of Black people in these discussions. By doing so, we are lifting up real fears, hearing insights, and wisdom from a range of people who are often silenced, ignored, and belittled in conversations and policy discussions about their own neighborhoods and bodies.  

My story is one of them. As a young Black woman who recently moved to Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, I’ve witnessed tangible changes in the area over the past year.  The recent influx of white “hippies” and young white professionals has ushered in 24 hour police watch.  When I first began noticing this, I thought it must have been in response to an increase in violence. However, after a month of constant and sustained police presence I realized they were only here to make my white neighbors feel safe.  I initially bought into the stereotype that Bed Stuy “Do or Die,” would be saturated with police, like overseers on a plantation. But a veteran of my block told me, “the police are coming to protect incoming residents to the area, not the n*ggas who’ve been living here.” - representing an often left out dimension of gentrification, which is the role of increased policing and crime rhetoric in aiding and justifying the “clean up” and pushing out of poorer Black residents.

For survival sake, Black people across the country have developed a 6th sense about police.  In our rhythmic heart of hearts, we know that police departments are not here to protect members of the Black community, but rather to control us. We do not feel safe when we walk our streets.  Our bodies carry histories of targeted violence and we are walking quotas. We are silenced by media and people believe our experiences are an exaggeration.  But unlike media assumptions that leave out real marginalized people, I can say that as part of BYP 100, I hear worries directly from the people who experience them.  Finally, we invite you to listen and speak too.  Join the conversation on Twitter @BYP_100, Instagram @BYP100, and Facebook with #CommunityOverPolicing and answer the three question.

Through a viral photo and video series this campaign spotlights the concerns of Black people in New York City surrounding  police brutality, lack of community resources and daily fears surrounding police presence. The project uses a traveling public photo series to spark discussions around policing in New York City and it’s impact on Black New Yorkers. Participants answered three questions pertaining to community safety, concerns about police presence, and feelings regarding personal police harassment. BYP 100 is illuminating community voices which gives our nation the key to truly understanding the current dynamic between police and the Black community. For more information about the organization and how you can get involved please visit www.BYP100.org.