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NYPD Receives Pushback After Stopping Bronx Honor Student

Advocates are resisting a police program intended to curb gun violence, claiming it targets young Black men. A report found that three in 10 stops and four in 10 searches by the teams had no legal basis.

NYPD officers stopped Bronx honors student Nyeem Sophas on Tuesday night in a police program touted by Mayor Eric Adams to curb gun violence that civil rights advocates say illegally targets young Black men.

Nyheem, 16, and three friends were coming home from watching a Dyckman summer basketball league game in Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood when one a Neighborhood Safety Team rolled up on them at about 11:30 p.m. at Burnside Ave. and Jerome Ave. in Fordham Heights.

“They were tailing me and my friends,” Nyheem said Thursday. “But I did not realize they were cops, as it was an unmarked car, until they got out of the vehicle in their full uniforms.”

The encounter was a shock for Nyheem, who has a 3.85 grade point average and plays varsity basketball at Bronx Academy for Software Engineering.

On Monday, he attended a town hall titled “Crime in America” with News Nation host Chris Cuomo, the brother of ex-New York governor Andrew Cuomo, and got a tour of the studio.

“Initially, I told them I had nothing and then said that I don’t have to tell them,” Nyheem recounted. “When I saw their hands placed on their pistols, I told them that I just had my phone charger, phone, wallet etc. I feared for my life.”

Hawk Newsome of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York and civil rights lawyer Sanford Rubenstein said the stop of the teens was an example of a larger trend of unlawful NYPD street stops. They called for a federal Department of Justice investigation of the tactic.

“The consequence of unconstitutional stops is to criminalize young people,” Rubenstein said.

Searches like the one experienced by Nyheem and his friends may be “the tip of the iceberg,” Rubenstein said. “And that’s why the Biden administration needs to step in and determine the extent of the unconstitutional stops.”

Newsome, who organizes the Black Opportunities summer employment program that Sophas is a part of, said out of 21 youths in the program, six have been stopped by police in recent months.

Some of the youths “were just on national television and were the toast of the event, and then they get stopped and humiliated,” Newsome said. “I thought we were done with stop and frisk, and now these kids are experiencing the same thing.”

In a statement, Mayor Adams cited his own experience as a young man encountering police abuse, and said it was one of the reasons he founded the group 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care. He also cited his testimony in the landmark Floyd v. City of New York class action case on stop and frisk.

”The men and women that wear blue have a sworn obligation to serve and protect the public,” he said in the statement.

“I will both support our police officers who will help make our city safe again and hold zero tolerance for those who violate that sacred obligation. Public safety is my top priority, but safety and justice must go hand in hand, and our officers are making real inroads with the communities they police.”

Another youth in the summer program, Luis Uterte, 17, said he was stopped in June returning from basketball practice on Third Ave. in the Bronx.

“It was late at night. I entered the train station and there was no one around. Two cops showed up and started asking me about what’s in my backpack,” said Luis, who sports a 3.5 grade point average.

Luis replied he just had his hoops shoes and school materials.

“He raised his voice and put me on the ground while the other one checked my bag. I felt scared, violated,” he said. “My phone was dead, so I could not even contact anybody. When they were done they just left my school papers and shoes all scattered.”

The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In 2014, the city signed a landmark consent decree creating a federal monitor to oversee the NYPD’s stop and frisk strategies. After reaching a height of more than 600,000 stops in 2011, the number of stops reported by police is far smaller. But some observers have charged the numbers are being under-counted.

On July 5, the federal monitor reported that three in 10 stops and four in 10 searches by Neighborhood Safety Teams had no legal basis.

Adams has touted the teams — which ride in unmarked cars while in uniform — as key to reducing crime and getting guns off the street. But the monitor found they seized just two guns in 230 car stops during the second half of 2022.

Mario Benabe, principal of the Wildflower New York Charter School in Morrisania, the Bronx, said he’s seen a sharp upswing in complaints from teens about police harassment over the past year.

“I hear every day from young people and people I grew up with. I hear from parents at the school, there’s a big issue around the way the NYPD is policing our communities,” said Benabe, who grew up in the same neighborhood where he now runs the school.

The call for an investigation was endorsed by Council Member Kristin Richardson Jordan (D-Manhattan).

“This city and particularly this administration has continuously failed to protect our youth. Federal intervention is needed,” said Richardson Jordan.

©2023 New York Daily News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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