‘Considered last if considered at all’: Stop and frisk’s impact on Black women and co-victims of violence

The conversation about stop and frisk centers on Black and brown men. What about Black women and co-victims of violence?

Women gather together and look towards the camera.

Mothers and grandmothers who lost loved ones to gun violence support each other in Saunders Park during the unveiling of SHOT: We The Mothers, a portrait series. (Sam Searles/WHYY)

How do you feel about stop and frisk (and policing more broadly) as an answer to Philly’s gun violence crisis? Get in touch.

For artist and activist Zarinah Lomax, Philadelphians are “trying to take measures in their hands because there’s such a level of atrocity in our city.”

Lomax is an advocate for co-victims of violence — people who are left behind after a violent act.

Over the summer, her paintings of survivors and co-victims of gun violence were displayed in City Hall. “A lot of the time we paint the victims,” she said during the exhibits’ opening. “But these are faces you need to see, these are the victims that are still here.”

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At present, Lomax says she understands why a more visible stop and frisk is being considered in Philadelphia. City Council President Darrell Clarke mentioned using the controversial policing tactic following a mass shooting this past summer, but Lomax doesn’t believe the method will fix the root causes of violence.

“People are just literally taking people out like it’s nothing … Truth be told, unless people deal with untreated trauma, you can stop all the people that you want in the world. But now what you’re doing is you’re adding a level, level of trauma, especially for those that fit the bill,” Lomax shared by phone.

An up-close photo of a woman holding a portrait painting of her son.
Evan Baylors’ grandmother holds a drawing of him. His murder is still unsolved. (Sam Searles/WHYY)

The sixth-leading cause of death for young men of color nationwide is police use of force, according to a 2019 University of Michigan, Rutgers University and Washington University study. Stop and frisks may lead to the use of excessive force by the police, hence the opposing views on its use.

There have been public outcries about excessive force by police in Philadelphia, including stop and frisks. In 2014, 16-year-old Darrin Manning was arrested for assault and other charges after a police officer allegedly ruptured one of his testicles during a stop.

Although Manning was charged with resisting arrest, simple assault, and similar offenses, everything but the resisting arrest charge was dropped. The officer in the case was exonerated. Manning’s case resulted in multiple petitions in his support.

Dr. Brooklyn Hitchens, a project director for the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research, studied the effects of violence on women in Philadelphia. In her article “Second Killings: The Black Women and Girls Left Behind to Grieve America’s Growing Gun Violence Crisis,” she wrote about what happens after a shooting.

“Urban Black women and girls are more often exposed to community violence, such as witnessing someone being shot, seeing a dead body, or even being shot by guns themselves,” Hitchens wrote.

“They are frequently tasked with the “gendered punishment” of making funeral arrangements, settling debts, and caring for those left behind when someone is fatally injured by guns.”

Child and family therapist Diamond Walker served as a panelist on Episode 5 of “Stop and Frisk: Revisit or Resist,” a podcast produced by WHYY News and Temple University’s Logan Center for Urban Investigative Reporting. Walker emphasized the need for more attention paid to non-male people of color who also deal with gun violence and police.

As Kole Long, a Temple University student who co-hosted the panel, asked the roundtable for ideas regarding solutions to curb gun violence, Walker didn’t hesitate to answer.

“[I] just want to point out [that] even though the conversation kind of became Black male-centered, we [shouldn’t] forget Black women in the violence they face, as well as non-binary people … all the genders across Black people that also experience a lot of violence.”

Lomax and Walker are among a growing number of advocates who recognize that Black and brown women and the genderfluid community have unique and traumatic experiences related to gun violence and police interactions. They exist in a unique intersection of community leaders and co-victims of gun violence who are among those targeted in stop and frisks.

This past summer, a photography project featuring portraits of 30 mothers who have lost children or grandchildren to gun violence was unveiled in Saunders Park. Photographer Kathy Shorr addressed the mothers.

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“All of these women have men in their lives, they have children in their lives, grandparents, etc.,” she said. “This is what gun violence does to a community and a country — it shatters lives. The torment that these women have to go through on a daily basis every day? It doesn’t stop. It doesn’t end. This is a tragedy here.”

During the unveiling, Adara Combs from Philadelphia’s new Office of the Victim Advocate told the assembled crowd that women left behind after violence would be the strongest leaders in the fight against it.

“You are the voices that we need to hear,” she said. “You are the voices that will drive this work … I will do anything that I can in my position as victim advocate for this city to support you and to elevate your voices.”

Combs turned to address the audience. “Thank you to the mothers who chose to share their story because they don’t have to. They don’t have to publicize their trauma.”

A woman speaks at a podium.
Adara Combs leads the Office of the Victim Advocate, a new office in Philadelphia that connects survivors and co-victims with advocacy and resources. (Sam Searles/WHYY)

When the Bailey Agreement passed in 2011, following a settlement between the Philadelphia Police Department and the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the PPD created an electronic database for each police stop and encounter. This required officers to prove that they had reasonable suspicion to detain someone, and a suspicion not founded on race.

Philadelphia police data about stop and frisk demographics shows that Black and Hispanic men were stopped and frisked far more than their white counterparts in 2021. The data also shows that Black women were stopped and frisked less than white women, while Hispanic women and white women were stopped and frisked at nearly identical rates.

In the PPD’s 2021 stop and frisk data, contraband was found in just over 21% of stops involving Hispanic and white women. Stops involving Black women had a rate of just over 12%. Those numbers do not track the experiences of trans, nonbinary, or genderfluid people of color.

“I feel like when it comes to any matter involving law enforcement and the LGBTQ community, we’re often considered last if considered at all,” said Kendall Stephens, a Black and transgender rights activist. “Our experiences have been drowned out historically … our voices [and] our visibility have been left out of the conversation.”

Stephens was violently beaten by transphobic neighbors at her South Philly home in 2020. She said that the entire ordeal was made worse by police, some of whom laughed at her and used slurs against her.

Although Black women are stopped at a lesser rate than white women, according to PPD data, Cayla, a 16-year-old student at Mathematics Civics and Sciences Charter School, says young Black and brown women have reasons to be concerned as well.

“Classmates and I, however, [have] an added fear about stop and frisk tactics. I don’t want a male officer frisking me — putting his hands all over — when I’ve done nothing wrong,” Cayla wrote in a text to WHYY News. “When conducting stop and frisks, officers should consider the safety of the public and themselves, but also the safety and comfort level of the person they are frisking.”

Cayla volunteers with Enough Is Enough, a student-led anti-violence group that formed this year. The group has members in nine different high schools, and earlier this year they combined efforts to poll 1,300 students on violence in and around the city.

“Young women and girls my age already have enough to be afraid of; being touched by a police officer … in a way that makes us uncomfortable shouldn’t be added to that list.”

Cayla added that community policing, where officers are embedded into areas they know and invested in making personal connections with neighbors, could work to fix problems of violence, but only if methods like stop and frisk aren’t used.

“Right now, I only see police when something is wrong,” she wrote. “To me, police act as an aftereffect to crime, not to prevent them from happening in the first place. If we had more police, my community would feel safer. This can only be the case if officers are kind to people and not viewing everyone as a criminal.”

Kendall Stephens agreed, with the caveat that police and community members involved in community policing should be committed to protecting everyone involved. “[There are] voices that have not mattered to a lot of other community members who may have more identities that align with the status quo,” she said.

”We all start out as community members … a role that is very difficult and expects us to be fair and kind and compassionate to people of all experiences … we have to ask ourselves, can we actually have ethical community policing that accounts for all ideologies, all those experiences?”

Sam Searles is a Report for America corps member covering gun violence and prevention for WHYY News.

Stop and Frisk: Revisit or Resist

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