FAR ROCKAWAY, Queens – For many public school students in Queens, walking through metal detectors and passing by NYPD Safety Agents in the morning is part of the daily routine.
Occasionally for some students, that routine is broken.
According to an analysis released by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) on Wednesday, 15 students were arrested each day in New York City between January and March 2012. More than 96 percent of arrests were of black or Hispanic students and more than 73 percent were male.
Queens alone accounted for 20 percent of arrests between the five boroughs, with 67 in the first three months of 2012. The Bronx lead the pack with 108 arrests as of March.
With summer vacation only a few weeks away for students at Frederick Douglass Academy Vi High School in Far Rockaway, teenagers strutted through the front doors and out into the heat when the final bell sounded on Thursday afternoon.
One of the kids heading home, Tyrell Lucas, crossed Bay 25th Street with shoulder pads clutched in one hand and a melting lemon popsicle in the other. Lucas is an 11th grade student who plays football and track & field for Frederick Douglass. He aspires to play sports at the college level once he graduates.
Lucas is like many kids in this neighborhood. He attends school and tries his best to stay out of trouble.
“Out here there’s a whole bunch of gangs, violent stuff,” Lucas said. “My mom always told me not to join a gang because you join a gang you ruin your whole personal life, so I decided to join sports to keep out of trouble for now.”
The NYPD presence at the school doesn’t bother Lucas personally, but he feels the increased security measures may infringe on personal rights. During fire drills, he said, students must walk through the metal detectors again as they re-enter the building or they are not permitted to go outside.
“If we are young adults we’re supposed to have freedom as a community,” he said. “Some schools, they don’t have scanners at all, but some other schools don’t trust the neighborhoods around them.”
A group of friends leaving the Frederick Douglass campus reflected on NYPD-student interactions they had witnessed.
A 9th grader, Ricky Lowe, said she saw officers use what seemed like excessive force against a female student before she transferred to Frederick Douglass.
“At my old school [PS/MS 105] this girl had a fight and [a police officer] slammed her into a car,” Lowe said. “I don’t know why they was having a fight but they just slammed her into a car really brutal, they were literally attacking her and they didn’t attack the other girl. The other girl got to leave.”
According to the NYPD’s original report, nearly 63 percent of the arrests in Queens between January and March were of black students.
Frederick Douglass in Far Rockaway is 74 percent black and 21 percent Hispanic. The school encourages student involvement, enforces strict rules and requires students to wear uniforms. Principal Linda Alfred was not available for comment at the time of deadline.
“I think [the NYPD] is more tough towards [black students]. They treat them more harshly than white people, probably because African-Americans have a bad reputation,” said 9th grade Frederick Douglass student Marylynn Vargas. “I understand they have their job to do and sometimes they have to use force, but not with everybody, not everybody’s generally bad.”
As of December 2010, there were 1,094 safety agents in Queens. According to the NYCLU, there are now probably 50-100 more officers patrolling schools in the city.
Since the Student Safety Act was enacted in 2011, the NYPD is required to submit reports of arrests and summons’ every quarter. During the last two reporting periods from October to March, a total of 606 arrests were recorded.