Stopping Stop & Frisk
By Joel Chaffee at Jul 13, 2012
It was a Sunday. Father's Day. We were tired in body after a weekend of other events, but knew that the End Stop & Frisk march was too important to let some sore muscles get in the way. Further (however incidental) in a personal way we wanted to honor our own fathers and their commitments to social justice by standing for justice and equality in our own communities on the holiday.
So we prepared our sign - which read "685,724 stop & frisks last year = 685,724 violations of the 4th amendment" on one side and "Brooklyn For Peace against Stop & Frisk" on the other - and commuted from Brooklyn, through Queens and up into Harlem: 110th &5th Avenue, where a crowd larger than we had anticipated was assembling.
The number of groups sponsoring, co-sponsoring and supporting the march were myriad: NYCLU, NAACP, the National Action Network, Occupy Wall Street, Common Cause, the ANSWER Coalition, 1199 SEIU, and many others. Before going to the march we talked about how Stop & Frisk was important principally because it involves so many other issues: criminal justice, racism, police brutality, community empowerment, the war against drugs; and also that Stop & Frisk was important tactically at this particular moment because so much headway was being made on the issue. The last two Sundays alone saw Mayor Mike Bloomberg speaking at black churches in neighborhoods (Brownsville, Flatbush) plagued by the Stop & Frisk policy; obviously the Mayor (et al.) is feeling the pressure of how hated it is.
The Mayor continues to insist that Stop & Frisk helps to limit crime, especially gun crime, as though Stop & Frisk were the only option for achieving this goal. Speaking on Democracy Now recently, Benjamin Jealous of the NAACP said that what the Mayor isn't saying is that "a city like Los Angeles has brought down crime in that same time period, brought down violent crime in that same time period by 59 percent without this program [Stop & Frisk], that Dallas has done so by 49 percent, Baltimore by 37 percent. This isn’t about—again, this is not about criminals. This is about a generation that’s been criminalized, targeted and brutalized by the police."
The assembled crowd was no-less excited just because it was a planned Silent March (in the tradition started by the NAACP in 1917). People were excited to take on the issue in a big way with a big march with thousands involved - by the day's end the estimate was 50,000 marchers. And we were mostly silent - or at least quietly chatting. (Some marchers attempted here and there to get a chant going. "No justice, no peace! / No racist police!" but they were largely ignored or shushed.)
One of the first signs we saw at 110th & 5th was a large one reading, "Don't treat us like Palestinians!" It was obviously a macabre joke; and a good one, as it at once defied NYPD abuse along with US/Israeli abuse of another oppressed people. Along the march we also saw: "Stop and Frisk: The New Jim Crow." And: "Jail the real criminals: the bankers & CEOs" (this from an apologetic walking bicyclist who was trying very hard not to bump a tire into anybody). And, "Stop Racist Police Brutality." The NAACP had printed thousands of posters with victim of NYPD violence Sean Bell's face looking patiently upon the viewer, wondering when his death would have meaning for those who took it. One white protester stood on the sidewalk facing the march, clad in prison black & white stripes, holding a sign that read, "How Bloomberg & Kelly See Blacks & Latinos."
One sign compared current NYPD Commissioner with Bull Connor.
Along the way we overheard a group of black gentlemen ahead of us joke that, "You'd think the good people of 5th Avenue would invite us up for snacks and a drink," which left me laughing for a block or so.
Seeing so many NYPD along the march's route, I couldn't help but smile and wonder how tantalizing such a crowd was to them and how desperate they were to start frisking everyone in sight. I Tweeted comedian Jamie Kilstein (of Citizen Radio, who I just assumed would be at the march, although I had no idea) that he could probably come up with a better joke than I. Hopefully he does.
Towards the end of the march - the final destination was Mayor Mike's house on 78th Street - we saw a group of young students with similar signs taped to their backs. One read, "I am: a high school student. I want: to not be bullied by authority." I didn't ask him what he thought of soda sizes.