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For a Stop-And-Frisk Plaintiff, A 'Heartbreaking' Birthday

Nicholas Peart, far left, was stopped by police on his 18th birthday.
Richard Drew
Nicholas Peart, far left, was stopped by police on his 18th birthday.

Not long ago, we wrote about The Talk, the conversation that many young men of color get from their parents about how to manage being seen as suspicious and navigate fraught encounters with police officers. It's why Nicholas Peart's story resonated with us. Peart, who lives in Harlem, was one of the plaintiffs in New York City's big stop-and-frisk case. He spoke to StoryCorps about being stopped the police on his 18th birthday, and having to give The Talk to his younger brothers.

I had been celebrating my birthday. It had been a late night, so we decided to go to McDonald's, but it was closed.

A few moments later, three squad cars pull up, and they come out with their guns drawn, demanding that we get on the ground. They patted us down. They took our IDs, and one of the officers, you know, he had wished me a "Happy Birthday," sarcastically.

And I remember feeling helpless, and I felt embarrassment. You know, I had my cousins with me, and they are from the suburbs, and they had never experienced anything like that. But, growing up in the city, stop and frisk is something that my mother prepared me for. You know, it happens so many times that you start to think that this is a normal thing.

It's about to be three years since my mom passed away, and I became the guardian of my siblings overnight. Barry's 14 now, and Jalen is 12. It's definitely heartbreaking, you know, that stop and frisk is something that I have to inform my brothers about. You know, "This is something that you may have to deal with."

But, you know, these are growing boys living in Harlem. They have to be aware of what's going on. You know, so I try the same techniques that my mother gave me, and you know, plant the seed.

You know, they may not understand the complexities of everything, but it'll make sense when it really counts.

Under New York City's stop-and-frisk policy, police officers are granted wide discretion to stop and question people they deem suspicious. But the overwhelming majority of those stopped since the policy went into place were black and Latino. In 2011, a year with a record 684,000 police stops, nine in 10 of the people who were stopped were black or Latino.

Yesterday, a federal judge ruled that the policy relied on racial profiling and was unconstitutional, and appointed an independent advisor to look at reforming the practice.

This conversation originally aired on Tell Me More.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Gene Demby is the co-host and correspondent for NPR's Code Switch team.
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