My friend and I were walking toward the subway, relieved to be out of school, when we heard a voice behind us. “You,” the voice said. It was deep and authoritative.
I turned to see a man dressed in a light blue shirt and dark pants. “Security officer,” I thought. I was ready to ignore him -- after all, I wasn’t in school anymore. Then I noticed the gun at his waist. He was a police officer.
Walking toward us, he signaled to my friend. “Let me see your ID.” My friend handed the card over to the officer. Turning it over in his hand, the officer looked at him, his eyes hidden behind shades. “Go to the dean’s office to get this back,” he said. He turned and walked away.
It was the second time that week that one of my friends had given their school ID to a police officer only to be told they would have to get it back at school the next day. This constitutes a major inconvenience, since students need their IDs to get into their school, Brooklyn Technical High School. To get the ID back, they have to go through another entrance and convince the security agents that they are students by jumping through hoops such as showing a class schedule and then answering questions to prove its theirs. This can take around 20 minutes -- just to get in the school.
More commonly, police will tell Brooklyn Tech students sitting on the steps of nearby apartment buildings, standing in the doorways of corner stores or hanging out on crowded sidewalks to go home.
Students can no longer hang out outside the school or even in the area. The police do not allow it. What was once a mass of chatting teens spread over several blocks has become a steady line of pedestrians, headed to the subway. And the situation is not limited to Brooklyn Tech.
No Loitering Allowed
When teens at Youth Communication, a nonprofit youth media organization, surveyed students at high schools around the city, they found that being reprimanded by police has become a normal part of teenage life in New York. Police officers have started clamping down on teens hanging out where, since time immemorial, they have always hung out: around their schools.
Of the 19 students surveyed from throughout the five boroughs, only four said that their schools and the local police allowed them to stay outside their school after classes ended. Many others responded as though the very idea was foolish. “Of course, no,” gawked Yaki Lin, 17, a student at Flushing International High School in Queens.
The teens said that both school security agents and the police regularly told them to “move along.” Some said that police even escorted students to the next block. This approach is not limited to so-called dangerous schools â€“ ones cited by the state for high incidents of crime or required by the Department of Education to use metal detectors to scan all students entering the building.
New York City has the authority to institute this policy at any public school due to a section of the New York Penal Law, which says that a person is guilty of loitering when he or she “loiters or remains in or about school grounds, a college or university or grounds or a children’s overnight camp.”
Protecting Public Safety
Last February, Lee McCaskill, who was then principal at Brooklyn Tech, told the student body that the police clampdown on loitering near the school was prompted by safety concerns. Students from Tech were being robbed by outsiders and getting involved in fights, he explained in an announcement on the school’s Web site. “We are working very closely with the 88th precinct and other law enforcement officials to identify those involved in acts such as rowdiness, fighting, assault and even robbery,” the announcement read. It went on to ask the students to “whenever possible, travel in groups and leave” in a timely manner.
“ Students not involved in after-school activities should leave the school area immediately. Do not hang out near the subway, on our neighbor's property or other inappropriate areas. The officers of the 88th precinct may also ask you to move swiftly to your destination,” it continued,
A recent call to the New York City Police Department confirmed that the police presence at Tech was a response to fights and robberies in the neighborhood.
Students surveyed at other schools revealed that complaints from people who live near the school spurred police to approach students and tell them to find somewhere else to socialize.
“ We can’t stay next to the building because people in the neighboring apartment buildings complained to the school over noise,” said Ilya Arbit, 17, from Edward R. Murrow High Schoolin Brooklyn.
How to Hang Out
Many students find the policy inconvenient, especially if they live far from the school or want to wait for friends. “The police presence forced us to rush our after-school plans,” said Lionel Cox, 19, a former student at Tech, which draws students from all over the city. “We weren’t allowed to wait for friends who hadn’t left school yet or who were still in stores.”
Some of the teens surveyed have learned to outwit the police by walking, instead of standing, in front of the school building. As long as they do not stop in any one spot, the logic goes, they will not attract police attention. Others simply move to a block where police are less likely to go.
Many more teens end up spending money in local stores or businesses near their schools -- pizza parlors, corner stores, billiard halls or bowling alleys - just so they have a place to hang out with friends after classes end. And as they hang out in these establishments, the teens say, they buy and eat junk food. As private property, stores are not covered by the loitering laws.
A few especially productive students have found that after-school clubs, such as debate teams and the Model UN, provide a good way to socialize with classmates after school, far from the watchful eyes of the NYPD. But over all, when it comes to facing police officers or extracurricular activities, most teens choose the police.
Donald Moore is now a senior at City-as-School in Brooklyn. This article is adapted from the pages of our partner youth communication.