Stopped Again…and Again

You are walking when suddenly you find yourself being pinned to the wall and tapped down. You are scared, but as the side of your face is smushed against the wall reality starts to sink in. You remember you’re just another brown person trying to go about your day with the word “dangerous” branded on your back. The constant stopping and frisking of black and brown people by the police is expressed in Claudia Rankine’s poem Stop and Frisk form her 2014 collection of poems, Citizen: An American Lyric. 

The lines “and you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always fitting the description”(Rankine 105) is repeated 3 times throughout the poem. We first see the lines appear after the first block of text and again at the very end of the poem. This receptiveness parallels the common excuse cops give to black and brown people when they are pulled over or forced to be searched. It’s always the same answer “you match the description of someone we’re looking for”, but what description would that be? A black boy with a hoodie and dark jeans? It’s not like there isn’t dozens of boys that meet that same description, no. In an article published by New York Civil Liberties Unions, the amount of stop and frisks reached an all time high in 2011. Out of the 685,724 stops 88% were innocent. Out of the innocent people who were unjustifiably searched 53% were black and 34% were latino. Rankine allows us to stay on this idea of stereotypical stop and frisks by making these lines to stand alone in its own block of text. Rankine’s use of the word “you” also forces a connection with the reader; it makes them think about themselves and what they would do in this situation. 

For people of color who have or have not been stopped “randomly” by the police, these are incredibly powerful words. My friend and I read this poem aloud and always found ourselves stumbling to say these lines, not only because of the repetitiveness in the sentence, but because of the weight in the meaning. In three short lines Rankine encapsulates the underlying racisms faced by black and brown people imposed by the police officers who are trained to target them. 

Work Cited

“Stop-and-Frisk Data.” New York Civil Liberties Union, 10 Dec. 2018, www.nyclu.org/en/stop-and-frisk-data.

Rankine, Claudia. “Stop-and-Frisk.” Citizen: An American Lyric, Graywolf Press, 2014.

One thought on “Stopped Again…and Again

  1. You do a really good job of introducing the topic of stop-and-frisk by incorporating the same word “you” to convey a message, just as Rankine does throughout her work. The repetition of the “and you are not the guy…” sentences in this poem is something that really stood out to me as well, especially how that sentence was spaced throughout the poem. After looking back over the poem, I noticed many more instances of repetition that weren’t as long as the one you pointed out, but are still there and I happened to not make note of right away. In between instances of the full quote you refer to, there are also two moments that are like shorter versions of it. Rankine uses the more subtle, “you are not that/the guy,” in her poem too (105, 107). While these words do not stand alone in their own blocks of text like the longer sentence repeatedly does, these shorter instances are followed by the notions of sanity and motion. Rankine specifically says, “Our motion is wearing you out” (105, 107). Furthermore, this idea of being worn out adds to your analysis of the repetitive excuse that cops give. But I also wonder, how does the first person pronoun of “our” fit into this system of stop-and-frisk? Another sentence that Rankine repeats twice is, “Each time it begins in the same way, it doesn’t begin the same way, each time it begins it’s the same” (107). This also shows just how systematic stop-and-frisk is. Regardless of what the person was doing, regardless of where they were or how close they were to their home when the encounter begins, the same scenario plays out, the same excuses are given to black and brown people as you pointed out in your post. Crime has become racialized, with common identifiers such as skin color and a hoodie serving as a racial project. The very last occurrence of the quote that you focus on starts with, “And still,” the word “still” being the only difference from the other three occurrences that precede it. Being at the very end, after the narrator was released from arrest, the quote stands there like a reminder that leaving handcuffs does not mean they are free from experiencing the same encounter again and again.

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