Image via the Center for Artistic Activism (click to enlarge)

Milton Glaser’s “I Love New York” logo is one of, if not the most, classic symbols of the city; tourists can find it emblazoned on T-shirts sold at street vendors all around town. But visitors passing through these days might see a version of the I Love New York T-shirt that they weren’t quite expecting, and which they may not even fully understand: “I Stop and Frisk New York.”

The T-shirts feature a red stop sign in place of the usual heart, with the word “Frisk” printed over it, and are a public art project created by the Center for Tactical Magic and the Street Vendor Project of the Urban Justice Center. Titled “Love Is a Souvenir,” the project aims to not only continue to raise awareness about the NYPD’s highly controversial stop-and-frisk policy, but also to educate new audiences about it, since the public conversation about the tactic seems to have stayed mostly local. Steve Lambert over at the Center for Artistic Activism has this comment from a tourist from Minnesota:

I hadn’t heard about Stop & Frisk before.  I guess if you live in NY it’s familiar, but I was shocked to find out about it. It doesn’t even sound legal to me.

These groups aren’t the first to target stop and frisk; the Yes Men released a video spoofing the policy earlier this year, which offered a free McDonald’s happy meal to anyone who was stopped and frisked three times. But importantly, the “Love Is a Souvenir” project involves street vendors, who are mostly lower- and middle-class immigrants and people of color. Stop and frisk is a tactic that overwhelmingly affects their communities: Statistics from the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) show that in the first six months of this year, the police stopped 337,434 New Yorkers. Of that total, 53 percent were black, 32 percent were Latino and only 9 percent were white. And last year, a whopping 87 percent of people stopped were black or Latino. The NYCLU also points out that the police disproportionately use force on people of color than whites.

Lambert sums up the importance of street vendors to the project perfectly:

Many of these vendors are African-American veterans who work everyday selling items that promote NY’s public image as a place characterized by love, liberty, and respect.  However, they say that they go home at night to communities where friends, family members, and even they have been subject to aggressive police treatment.

I’m not sure how many T-shirts are out there and if they’re actually for sale — for now it sounds like each vendor just has a unique one  hanging alongside his other wares. But I hope they make more and start selling them. Visiting Minnesotans may not buy them, but I will.

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Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...