In a presentation on Tuesday night to a packed room at the School of Social Work, the Morris Justice Project presented findings and methodology in a talk called “Stop and Frisk?” The Morris Justice Project is a community initiative from the South Bronx in a very heavily-policed community. The project was created in 2011, when NYPD officers conducted nearly 700,000 stops.
As opposed to most graduate school talks, this event made no pretensions of high academia – the Project prides itself on performing and presenting its research for its community, not for scientific publication. Tuesday’s talk took that element to heart, detailing how the Project centered itself on the community.
The Morris Justice Project began in a public library from the lived experiences of members of a community. Members at the talk described a vibrant community that was “bullied and harassed” by police officers. One speaker described how he didn’t want to go outside for fear of being stopped, and another told a story of a client who was arrested for robbery, even though he had just spent the last hour meeting with the speaker. Several members were horrified by how regular police stoppages seemed to their children. The existing statistics, even those that came from the government, corroborated the story that neighborhoods like this one in the South Bronx were disproportionately targeted by the police as compared to white and wealthy communities.
The transformation of lived experiences into statistical objectivity was only a secondary objective for the Morris Justice Project. They instead sought to answer the question, “What are the experiences with and attitudes towards the police in this community?” Members of the project detailed every step of this process – defining the “neighborhood,” designing and redesigning survey questions, figuring out how to sample the community, and determining what to do with their survey results. Their findings answered questions which NYPD data could not. As well as showing what blocks and corners were must susceptible to stops, the over 1,000 survey results showed that over half of respondents had been stopped at least four times by the police. They chose to publish a “back pocket report” of their findings, which are available on the Morris Justice Project’s website.
That choice to publish informally reflected organizer worries about exploiting communities of color for the benefit of white scientists. Choices about the Project, as well as much of the work of data collection and interpretation, was performed by members of the Project and the community with an hourly wage. The Project sought to give back to the community with initiatives such as a “Know Your Rights” workshop, and directed community members to resources to combat police- and economy-related problems. The presentation emphasized that survey respondents, once they heard that the program was trying to combat police violence, were eager to help, and were often more interested in fixing the community than receiving survey compensation.
As important as their quantitative data was, the Morris Justice Project found special pride in the large majority of respondents who gave deeply personal statements in their survey, which has now extended beyond the South Bronx. Two members of the presentation wore t-shirts bearing quotes from surveys, “Why do I always fit the description?” and “It is not a crime to be who you are.” They also partner with local artists to create stickers and pins. MJP is a model for projects that want to focus on their target communities in a thoughtful and socially responsible way.
The full presentation is available courtesy the School of Social Work via livestream.com.
Photo via Morris Justice Project