It was 2002.
My dad was stopped and frisked on the subway. He fell asleep on the train, missed his stop, and was abruptly woken up by the conductor at the Jamaica-Van Wyck subway station and rushed out of the train to go use the bathroom. There were police officers watching him. They decided that his behavior was “suspicious” and immediately asked for his ID. A few moments later, he was arrested.
Was my dad’s crime that he missed his stop? Was it that he decided to use public transportation? What was so suspicious about someone running to the bathroom?
We’ve all done that. But somehow this ordinary situation prompted police officers to detain him without probable cause. Their argument was they were looking for someone with my dad’s last name: Ahmed.
He was detained and wasn’t even allowed to make a phone call to his family for hours. We had no idea where he was.
That night, panicking, we went from hospital to hospital to see if unidentified bodies were admitted.
After work, he always came straight back to his home in Southeast Queens. He was never late. He never hung out with friends. It was like clockwork, every night so when he didn’t come home that night, my mom was alarmed.
She didn’t speak English very well, so I had to call the police and translate the conversation on her behalf. They told us that they had to wait 24 hours before they could report him missing and go look for him.
That night, panicking, we went from hospital to hospital to see if unidentified bodies were admitted. All this stress because my dad fell asleep on a train and had to use the public restroom. All this stress because of his last name and the color of his skin. Bloomberg’s New York.
Eventually, we received a call from my dad. He told us that he was stopped and frisked and detained in central holding. They gave him a lawyer. My uncle who had come over by then spoke to the lawyer and was told that my dad would get fined for “disorderly conduct” — an excuse to save face so the police wouldn’t look bad. We were told we could sue the NYPD and win but my parents were afraid to challenge authority because they are immigrants. They were almost happy to pay the fine as if it was some sort of a blessing that the outcome wasn’t worse.
I was only 12 years old when all of this happened and it left a mark on me.
I learned that justice costs money — especially when you’re poor. I was old enough to know that I wanted justice and was really angry at my family for not pursuing a lawsuit. I was old enough to know that what the police did was wrong and I wanted them to pay. I wanted to make sure no one else ever had to go through what my family went through. We were the lucky ones who got let off with a small fine but others weren’t so lucky. Even at 12 years old, I knew that what happened was unfair.
A spark was lit in me that night. I knew that one day I would be older and would never allow this to happen to my family again. That night motivated me to directly challenge the system because I realized if we don’t fight for ourselves, nobody else will.
Now that I see Michael Bloomberg running for president by spending millions of his own money on ads and buying up politicians and an endorsement from my Congressional representative, Gregory Meeks, I feel that same trauma all over again.
What happened to my family was actually one of the best-case scenarios. Stop and frisk was a nightmare for so many black and brown people in New York. Entire communities were harassed every single day. Some people were stopped and frisked multiple times a week simply because they looked “suspicious.” The traumatic situation I went through still impacts me to this day, almost two decades later. It was the moment where I thought that I lost my father for good.
If Bloomberg gets elected, I will never forgive the Democratic Party for allowing it.
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