On Thursday, June 26, 11 Germantown Friends School Upper School students sat in large brass-studded leather chairs around a table with the City of Philadelphia seal emblazoned at the center in a private conference room in City Hall. The rumble of the subway shook the floor under their feet, but didn’t rattle their nerves as they studied their notes and awaited the arrival of Mayor Nutter.
These representatives of the student groups Human Rights and BASE (Brothers for Academic and Social Enrichment) presented the Mayor of Philadelphia with a year’s-worth of research and reflection, which solidified their belief that the city’s policy of Stop-and-Frisk is ineffective, unconstitutional, racially biased and “does more harm than good.”
The groups’ interest in Stop-and-Frisk (also known as Stop, Question and Frisk) was fueled by an Upper School assembly, sponsored by both groups, which featured David Rudovsky, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Rudovsky shared statistics that brought into question the effectiveness and fairness of Stop-and-Frisk, which allows police officers to stop and search pedestrians based on a “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity.
Following the assembly, the students conducted extensive research on legal, statistical and racial issues surrounding the policy.
“One of our own GFS students and his brothers were stopped and frisked on their way home from a recreation center in West Philly, and that really solidified the importance of this issue for the students,” said Brandon Jones, faculty advisor of BASE.
The groups wrote letters to Mayor Nutter and the Philadelphia Police Commissioner, sharing their thoughts on the matter.
“This meeting with the Mayor to openly discuss this topic was the culmination of their hard work,” Jones explained.
Mayor Nutter entered the conference room and greeted each student before settling in at the head of the table. The students presented the Mayor with nearly 100 letters written by GFS students and faculty.
The letters, according to Human Rights Group Faculty Advisor Bob Rhoades. “questioned Stop-and-Frisk from a variety of angles: personal experience, racial inequality in its application—one letter notes that from 2004 to 2012, 83 percent of the stop and frisks involved African-American men—and its ineffectiveness when measured by its stated goals.”
The Mayor listened attentively and took notes as the students explained their concerns that Stop-and-Frisk not only harms members of the community through racial profiling and discrimination, but also is not a very effective program.
The students informed the Mayor that in 2012 “almost half of the 215,000 stops conducted in Philadelphia were made without reasonable suspicion, according to the Supreme Court’s definition,” adding that, “guns were found in 0.16 percent of those frisks.”
Mayor Nutter defended Stop-and-Frisk, noting that it is constitutionally approved by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I didn’t bring Stop-and-Frisk to Philadelphia,” he said. “It has been utilized by every major police department in the United States of America for the last 46 years. The real issue is the implementation, enforcement and monitoring: You have to properly train police officers out on the street and document every stop.”
He also noted that the city recently developed a new form, database and periodic audit system to improve oversight of police stops.
“I am against all criminals,” Nutter said. “We’re trying a lot of different things because I want people to walk through their neighborhood and feel safe.”
He said he imagined a city where mothers don’t have to teach their children to drop to the floor or hop in the bathtub when they hear gunfire on their street, where innocent people are not hit by stray bullets, and where homicide is no longer the number one cause of death for young black males.
“Every life in this city is precious,” Nutter said.
The Mayor challenged students to offer ideas about how to reduce crime.
“I need you to speak out about the violence that goes on in this city,” he said, adding that on the issue of Stop-and-Frisk “It’s a balance, and we’re doing our best.”
After the meeting, Rhoades commented, “I was so impressed and so proud of this group of students. They were well organized, clear about their purpose, firm in their commitments and confident in their preparation. Under a vigorous cross examination by the City’s highest elected official, the students thought quickly on their feet, held their ground and came back with their own penetrating questions.”
Jones agreed: “The students openly and maturely discussed a very sensitive issue… They are learning an invaluable lesson about the power they possess, even as teenagers, to make a positive change in the world.”
“I believe the meeting with Mayor Nutter is more of a next-step, rather than a conclusion for our students,” Jones added. “The students hope to help generate momentum to one day put an end to the Stop-and-Frisk practices in Philadelphia.