Free Happy Meals for NYPD Stop and Frisk Victims?

‘Three Strikes You’re In!’ elaborate hoax aimed at racism of NYPD, McDonald’s

NYPD Stop and Frisk Highlighted: Elaborate Yes Men Style Hoax
Prankster turns in his coupon for "Stop & Frisk" 3-timer free Happy Meal! See video, below.

NEW YORK — “Whoa, really?”

That was a popular reaction this morning to the news that McDonald’s had partnered with the New York Police Department to hand out free Happy Meals™ to those stopped and frisked three times without charge or summons.

A press release described the arrangement as “a bold new program that rewards New Yorkers for their patience with the NYPD’s ‘Stop and Frisk’ policy.” Several YouTube videos showed McDonald’s customers, official “Three Strikes” vouchers in hand, requesting and receiving their free “Meals.”

To many New Yorkers, it seemed an entirely plausible, if laughable, effort to address community concerns. After all, “Stop and Frisk” ensnared over 684,000 New Yorkers in 2011, 90% of them African American and Latino. The city’s police force seemed overdue for just such an image-burnishing makeover.

So, was “Three Strikes You’re In!” an earnest effort to smooth things over with a disgruntled public? Not exactly.

The website (since taken down at the behest of McDonald’s), Facebook page, and YouTube videos were all part of an elaborate hoax by People Enraged by Racist Policing (PERP), an activist group working with the Yes Lab at New York University. The group is seeking to highlight what they say are racist and discriminatory policies of the NYPD, while also calling attention to McDonald’s intense marketing of unhealthy food to residents of low-income urban areas.

“The cops ‘stop and frisk’ people simply because of how we look and where we live,” said Divad Durant, a PERP spokeperson. “This kind of policing creates an atmosphere of fear and distrust in our neighborhoods, and has convinced New Yorkers that the NYPD is anything but just.”

According to its own data, the New York Police Department made over 684,000 street stops in 2011, a 603% increase over 2002, when Mayor Bloomberg first took office, and a 14% increase over 2010. Nearly 90% of “Stop and Frisk” victims are African American and Latino, though they make up only 50% of the city’s population, according to the 2010 census. Fewer than 10% of the stops led to an arrest, and almost none of those to a conviction. In fact, many of those arrested found themselves handcuffed simply because they had questioned the right of the police to frisk them.

According to PERP, the disparate impact of stop-and-frisk on people of color, particularly in low-income communities, is just the tip of the iceberg. “Stop-and-frisk is just one notable example of an NYPD that is discriminatory and unjust in policy and practice,” said Jerry Goralnick, another PERP member. “The increasing frequency of extreme brutality, such as the recent beating of Jatiek Reed and the killing of Ramarley Graham in the Bronx, are even more outrageous and horrific.”

Abusive policing also has less visible impacts on marginalized groups. Sexual assaults of women, profiling and illegal surveillance of Muslims, and inappropriate treatment of trans-gender, homeless, and immigrant New Yorkers are widespread, according to PERP.

But why was McDonald’s part of the act?

“Like the NYPD, McDonald’s specifically targets low-income communities of color, but in a different way: as markets from which to draw profits, at the expense of our health and well-being,” said Durant.

McDonald’s website merges references to African culture with the company’s marketing goals. “Like the unique African Baobab tree, which nourishes its community with its leaves and fruit, McDonald’s has branched out to the African-American community nourishing it with valuable programs and opportunities,” says the website, which appears to be completely authentic.

Activists say that McDonald’s, with condescending and manipulative marketing that co-opts African-American culture, simply wants to profit from minority New Yorkers at the expense of their health. “Last time I checked, baobab fruit is not high in fat, cholesterol, and salt,” said Durant. “In fact, it’s rich in Vitamin C, and reduces the risk of cancer and heart disease. McDonald’s shouldn’t compare their unhealthy fare with something that’s actually good for you.”

“Other than those who work for the McDonald’s marketing machine, does anyone ever use ‘nourish’ to describe anything about McDonald’s?” added Goralnick.

“McDonald’s wants us to think its ‘food’ is not just life-shortening gruel pumped into unsuspecting stomachs via a tube made of salt, fat, and clever marketing,” said Durant. “And that’s particularly true in the African American community, where it uses TV ads and websites like to tell a wholly inaccurate and misleading story about the company and what it offers.”

Video of one of the pranksters getting his “reward”:

YouTube player

Why All the Trouble?
A Statement from Project Organizers

“‘Three Strikes, You’re In!’ is a joke, but a biased, abusive police department that makes us less safe is no laughing matter. We did all this work simply to call attention to the issue. The media, advocates, legislators and the general public should look to the work of the excellent organizations, campaigns and coalitions who are doing serious work to address these issue and develop real solutions.”

Some New York City formations working to stop abusive policing and develop solutions include:

The Yes Lab and PERP are not affiliated with any of these groups.