Stop Frisk Tourist T- Shirts Favorite 

Date: 

Aug 28 2012

Location: 

New York NY
At Souvenir Stands, Selling Tourists on Ending Stop-and-Search
By COREY KILGANNON

New York Times, City Blog, August 27, 2012

Last week, a 37-year-old artist from Oakland, Calif., named Aaron Gach joined the crowds of tourists swarming the sidewalk souvenir stands set up around the perimeter of Battery Park in Lower Manhattan.

Mr. Gach was not looking to buy anything. Rather, he carried a backpack full of the classic “I Love New York” T-shirts, but with the heart in the phrase replaced by a stop-sign logo emblazoned with the word “Frisk.”

The shirts show Mr. Gach’s disdain for the New York Police Department’s policy of stopping, questioning and sometimes frisking people they consider suspicious. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and police officials credit the strategy for helping to reduce murders and other crime in the city.
Mr. Gach has spent a week in Manhattan asking sidewalk vendors to take a single T-shirt from him, not to sell, but simply to display next to their merchandise of hats and shirts and other New York souvenirs.

It is part of his “public art project,” he said, to “provoke a discussion” between the vendors and the tourists who tend to flock to these souvenir tables but know nothing about the controversial stop-and-frisk issue. On Thursday afternoon, he approached some vendors with the request to display his shirt, and checked in with others who had agreed in previous days to do so.

A vendor just outside Battery Park near Broadway, Kendall Otway, 55, of Woodhaven, Queens, said a number of visitors had asked about the shirt and, once informed about the stop-and-frisk policy, seemed surprised that the police in New York City were so intent on searching for guns.
Mr. Otway, a Navy veteran, said he opposed the policy. “It chips away at our Constitution, which says you’re not supposed to be searching anyone without a warrant,” he said.

A vendor at an adjacent stand, Rachiq Yassine, 32, from Brooklyn, also displayed Mr. Gach’s T-shirt.

Mr. Yassine said he was a Moroccan immigrant who enlisted in the United States Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and served three tours in Iraq. After returning home to Brooklyn from his military service, he said, he was approached once by police officers in a patrol car.
“They said, ‘Pull up your hoodie and turn around,’” to see if I had a gun, he recalled. “Being from an Arab country, I take it more personally, especially after my service.”
Mr. Gach told Mr. Yassine he wanted him to display one of his T-shirts because, as vendors, “you’re on the front lines, as cultural ambassadors of New York, and a lot of tourists respect your opinions of the city.”

Mr. Gach walked to another stand near Battery Park, this one located strategically near lines of tourists waiting at a tour-bus stop. The vendor, Kader Abdul, 26, of the Bronx, said many tourists asked to purchase the shirt after learning its message.
Mr. Abdul’s partner at the stand, Lex Booker, 56, an Army veteran from Staten Island, added, “Tourists don’t know what stop-and-frisk is, because tourists don’t get stopped and frisked.”

Sebastian Torres and his teenage son Thomas, who were visiting from Argentina, stopped and looked at Mr. Gach’s shirt.

They had not heard of the practice, and had never heard of it being used back in their city. Posadas. Mr. Torres seemed divided on the issue.
“People have their rights, but the safety of everyone is important, too,” he said.

Mr. Gach, a founder of the Center for Tactical Magic, an Oakland-based arts group that advocates “positive social transformation,” said he hoped the shirts functioned both as protest signs and as props to generate conversation between tourists and vendors, “many of whom reside in communities directly impacted by aggressive policing.”

He said he had gotten dozens of vendors to display the shirt, often next to items bearing the Police Department’s logo.
The stop-and-frisk tactic in New York City has come under fire from civil rights groups and many minority community leaders, who claim that it unfairly targets black and Hispanic young men and has not led to enough arrests to justify its use.

“This issue is no longer local to New York,” Mr. Gach said. “Other American cities are looking to New York City to set the policy on this. If we can get it stopped in New York, we can effectively get it stopped in other cities.”

Mr. Gach said he was especially interested in approaching vendors around Battery Park because many seemed to be military veterans who also happened to live in rougher neighborhoods in New York where stop-and-frisk is employed more frequently than in Manhattan.

He also wanted his T-shirts displayed by vendors near the Statue of Liberty ferry because tourists waiting for the ferry “are contemplating the narrative of freedom that the statue represents, and I want them to see something that confronts that narrative.”

On Thursday, he approached a vendor near the ferry terminal, Malik Asghal, 40, a Pakistani immigrant, who said he had already seen Mr. Gach’s T-shirt displayed by other vendors. He refused a shirt from Mr. Gach, explaining that he would have to check with his boss before displaying it.
He asked Mr. Gach how the project was working, and Mr. Gach responded, “Tourists are asking what it’s about, and that’s already a mark of success, for me.”

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