Stop-and-Frisk, This is what it looks like


“To understand the universe you need to…” was the practice sentence that my Portuguese professor presented to us in class and my first response was the language itself. I believe understanding language is critical to how we communicate with one another. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric demonstrates how the absence of quotation marks impacts the understanding of her writing.

Rankine’s prose creates a unique way of reading and understanding her work, especially in the poem “Stop-and-Frisk” in which she sets the stage for a play on words, truth, and dichotomy:

“This is what it looks like. You know this is wrong. This is not what it looks like. You need to be quiet. This is wrong. You need to close your mouth now. This is what it looks like. Why are you talking if you haven’t done anything wrong?” (Rankine 108).

The apparent dialogue is stripped of quotation marks. This style of narration zooms out of the direct confrontation between two people and allows readers to examine what the narrator is voicing. The presence of the word “You” highlights the familiarity of stop-and-frisk, and the contrasts from sentence to sentence suggest the internalization of these occurrences.

The presence of the sentences starting with “You need to…” can be the words of the cop, but it can also be the thoughts of the victim who’s vocalization has become criminalized. Pairing these commands with the words “this is wrong” illustrates the process behind the narrator deciding on what move to make next. Throughout this small part of the poem, repetition, and the ambiguity of dialogue alludes to the systematic oppression that creates these encounters. This internal dialogue can show just how normalized it is to fear encounters with police in the black community.

Just as black bodies are criminalized, black voices are repeatedly dismissed in their efforts to narrate their own experiences, on the streets and in classrooms alike. In her depiction of Stop-and-Frisk, Rankine’s structure of language forces readers to listen more closely to the narrator’s voice by contrasting each sentence with the one preceding and/or following it. We as readers are able to find deeper understanding of the complexity of communication in Stop-and-Frisk, all without the use of quotation marks. 

Image result for stop and frisk

Works Cited

Rankine, Claudia. “This is what it looks like.” Citizen: An American Lyric. Graywolf      

         Press, 2014.


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,

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