Stop and Frisk, South Asians and Kal Penn’s Tweets

South Asian leaders oppose stop and frisk, and Kal Penn agrees.

By Deepa Iyer, Rinku Sen Aug 16, 2013

When the Twitterversy around Kal Penn’s tweets about the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy arose, Deepa Iyer over at South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) and I felt that it was important for South Asians to share our view of racial profiling and its impact. We wrote something and asked a bunch of people to sign on. That statement is below.

Simultaneously, we reached out to Kal Penn to express our disappointment and concern over his tweets. We started a conversation that resulted in his endorsing this statement. Penn has also agreed to engage in a process of dialogue, learning, engagement and action on racial profiling and stop and frisk policies with the institutions and communities working on this issue, including Colorlines and SAALT. You’ll find Penn’s brief statement at the bottom of ours.


This week, news of actor Kal Penn’s tweets apparently supporting the NYPD’s stop and frisk program has generated a debate about which we — South Asian activists, scholars, writers, artists and lawyers–have strong opinions. In his follow-up yesterday, Penn asks: "As people of color is this [stop and frisk program] effective? Does it have merit? How do we make our own communities of color safer?"

Our unequivocal answers to these questions are: no, no and not with stop and frisk.

Stopping, interrogating, detaining or searching people based on characteristics such as their actual or perceived race, national origin, immigration status or religion is racial profiling. In a democracy, there has to be a reason to stop and search someone. Being a person of color isn’t a good enough reason.   

Stop and frisk sounds so benign yet it covers up the violent humiliation experienced by hundreds of thousands of young black and brown men annually. Beneath the numbers is the human impact of this sort of policing. It involves being thrown to the ground face down. It involves cops dumping your belongings on the street while they taunt you with predictions that you’ll never amount to anything. It involves having this happen to you a dozen times before you’re 16 years old, and continuing into your adulthood. This sort of police enforcement not only hurts the individual, but also entire communities whose members are treated as "others" and automatically deemed unwelcome suspects in their own neighborhoods.

According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, New Yorkers, predominantly blacks and Latinos, have been stopped and interrogated on the street by police more than 4 million times since 2002, and nine out of 10 of those stopped have been completely innocent. Facts cited by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in the Floyd v. City of New York case, which was brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, include that between 2004 and 2009, cops searched 2.28 million people for weapons, and that 2.25 million of them (98.5 percent) had none. Out of 4.4 million stops, only 6 percent led to an arrest, which means that cops were wrong 16 times more often than they were right.

These numbers confirm that there is absolutely no evidence that stop and frisk reduces crime. New York City’s crime rate had started falling before stop and frisk was ever instituted, and cities and states across the country have also reduced crime rates without using such an unconstitutional and destructive practice. 

The negative racial impact and ineffectiveness of stop and frisk would be reason enough to oppose it. And, South Asian communities have an additional stake in this debate.

Especially since September 11, South Asians are routinely targeted as would-be terrorists in many settings. Plenty of people say that South Asians, Sikhs and Muslims commit more terrorist acts to justify that profiling. South Asians have endured harassment at airports and at the border, interrogations and detentions by immigration authorities in the name of national security, and surveillance of Muslim Students Associations, mosques, and restaurants. In fact, the NYPD is facing lawsuits for their surveillance of Muslim communities.

A recent report by South Asian American organizations in New York City and nationally reveals the deep impact of racial and religious profiling on South Asian New Yorkers, many of whom are young, working class people who struggle with being singled out by authorities, including the NYPD.  Indeed, plenty of young South Asians themselves have been victims of stop and frisk policies–in both terrorism and non-terrorism related contexts–even in schools.

We urge South Asians to join the growing multiracial movement to bring stop and frisk practices, as well as other policies that criminalize and target communities of color, in New York City and across our country to a speedy end.

(Affiliations are provided for identification purposes only.)

 Rinku Sen, President of the Applied Research Center, publisher of Colorlines

Deepa Iyer, Executive Director, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

Seema Agnani, Executive Director, Chhaya CDC

Chitra Aiyar, Board Member, Andolan – Organizing South Asian Workers

Chandra S. Bhatnagar, American Civil Liberties Union

Shahid Buttar, Executive Director, Bill of Rights Defense Committee

Mallika Dutt, Executive Director, Breakthrough

Ami Gandhi, Executive Director, South Asian American Policy & Research Institute (SAAPRI)

Vanita Gupta, Deputy Legal Director, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Sameera Hafiz, Policy Director, Rights Working Group

Aziz Huq

Chaumtoli Huq, Academic/Law@theMargins

Anil Kalhan, Associate Professor of Law, Drexel University Earle Mack School of Law

Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director, American Civil Liberties Union

Pramila Jayapal, Distinguished Taconic Fellow, Center for Community Change 

Saru Jayaraman, Co Director, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United

Anil Kalhan, Associate Professor of Law, Drexel University Earle Mack School of Law

Subhash Kateel, Radio Show Host, Let’s Talk About It!

Farhana Khera

Kalpana Krishnamurthy, Policy Director Forward Together

Manju Kulkarni, Executive Director, South Asian Network (SAN)

Vijay Iyer, Musician

Rekha Malhotra (DJ Rekha)

Monami Maulik, Executive Director, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)

Samhita Mukhopadhyay

Vijay Prashad, Author, Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today, and Karma of Brown Folk

Naheed Qureshi

Luna Ranjit, Executive Director, Adhikaar

Hina Shamsi, Director, National Security Project, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Amardeep Singh, Co-Founder and Director of Programs, Sikh Coalition

Sivagami Subbaraman, Director, LGBTQ Resource Center, Georgetown University

Manar Waheed, Policy Director, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)


From Kal Penn: "I support the statement from South Asian community leaders on the impact of racial profiling. I have and still do oppose racial profiling in any form. I want to thank SAALT and the Applied Research Center for reaching out and starting to educate and dialogue with me about these issues. I plan on being in regular contact with these great community leaders and allies around the issue of racial profiling, and to dialogue with and engage others about it. It’s important for all our communities to be educated, informed and mobilized."