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.
“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.