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“They’re Invading Me”: Vietnam Veteran John Covington on Being Targeted by Police Stop-and-Frisks

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“They’re invading me, as if I was invading the beach of Normandy or something,” says John Covington at Sunday’s march against the New York City Police Department practice known as stop-and-frisk. “I become a piece of property to them, and they can do anything they want to me because they’re the police. You want to have respect for the police, but they don’t have respect for us. That’s the key, the whole thing. It’s about respect, and not — don’t practice racism.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Along the march, I spoke to a Marine veteran and lawyer named John Covington.

JOHN COVINGTON JR.: Well, I’ve been stopped several times up in the Bronx.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re a Vietnam vet?


AMY GOODMAN: You come back from Vietnam, and how many times have you been stopped?

JOHN COVINGTON JR.: Over a dozen times.

AMY GOODMAN: Uh-huh. Have you ever been arrested.

JOHN COVINGTON JR.: Not for that, no.

AMY GOODMAN: Not for the stops-and-frisks. So they stop you—



JOHN COVINGTON JR.: And once they find out I’m an attorney and a minister, they just sort of, “Oh, sorry. We made a mistake.”

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’ve been stopped and frisked a dozen times.


AMY GOODMAN: You’re a lawyer, a veteran and a minister.


AMY GOODMAN: So the lawyer, does that weigh in?

JOHN COVINGTON JR.: I think so. Yeah, I think they don’t — “Well, we better not mess with him because he knows the law,” you know, and I—you know, I guess that’s what they decide to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think this is happening in this city? And why you?

JOHN COVINGTON JR.: I’m black. That’s simply what it is. People don’t want to say the truth, but it’s racism. It is racism. And the excuse that the mayor gives is that, well, the crime rate is so high in the minority neighborhood, black and Hispanic neighborhood. That’s why. That’s why he put more emphasis on that. But I think that’s a farce. That’s crazy. You need to get the statistics right. If you have 750,000 stops a year, there’s something wrong with that. Eighty-seven-and-a-half percent is minority? That doesn’t make any sense to me.

AMY GOODMAN: Right now—I mean, the march started up at 110th. We’re walking through the wealthiest neighborhood of Manhattan.

JOHN COVINGTON JR.: I know. That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: Right now we’re coming up to Mayor Bloomberg’s house.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the Upper East Side.

JOHN COVINGTON JR.: Right, that’s right. And I was aware of that. And I said—can’t say anything when I get there, because it’s a silent march, but I got a lot on my mind. I think when I get home, I’m going to send an email, send a couple emails out.


JOHN COVINGTON JR.: To the mayor’s office.

AMY GOODMAN: You were a marine?

JOHN COVINGTON JR.: Yes, Third Marine Division.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do the police say they’re stopping you, when they stop you over and over and over again?

JOHN COVINGTON JR.: The first excuse come out of their mouth is, “There was a crime in the area, and we’re looking for someone.” That’s the first thing comes out of their mouth. Or the next, second thing is, “We were looking for somebody. You meet—you fit the profile, the description of the person.” Garbage. It’s all garbage.

AMY GOODMAN: You work at the United Nations?

JOHN COVINGTON JR.: I did when I was—I’m retired now. I’m an old man now.

AMY GOODMAN: How old are you?

JOHN COVINGTON JR.: Well, we’ll keep that quiet.

AMY GOODMAN: Must stops-and-frisks are of young African-American and Latino men under 30. You’ve been stopped and frisked over 30?

JOHN COVINGTON JR.: Yes. Yes. And I know other men my age that have been stopped, and older have been stopped.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is the feeling when they are risking you, when—



JOHN COVINGTON JR.: Invasion. They’re invading me, as if I was invading the beach of Normandy or something. I become a piece of property to them, and they can do anything they want to me because they’re the police. You want to have respect for the police, but they don’t have respect for us. That’s the key, the whole thing. It’s about respect, and not—don’t practice racism.

AMY GOODMAN: John Covington Jr., Vietnam vet, former marine, lawyer and minister.

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