On Friday, October 21, a historic movement to combat the New York Police Department policy of “stop and frisk” began in the heart of Harlem.
“I’m a former military officer,” a young man named Marvin told the crowd assembled at the corner of 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard. “One night, me and some of my friends were minding our own business—just going out to pick up some Chinese food. We got stopped by a police officer. He demanded that we show him identification and handcuffed us to the sidewalk while he searched our car for a warrant. After searching our car—and finding nothing—the officer turned to us and said, ‘Can you do the chicken noodle soup dance?’ Even though he had found nothing, he told us that the only way he would let us go without a record was if we sang and danced for him.”
“I hate that people see me on the street and automatically think that I am a criminal. I don’t have any police record—but I will after today,” he finished.
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The New York Police Department is on track to “stop and frisk” over 700,000 people in 2011 alone. That is over 1,900 people stopped and searched without a warrant per day; 85 percent of them are black or Latino and more than 90 percent were doing nothing wrong.
In July, a few weeks before Adbusters released the call to Occupy Wall Street, professor and civil rights activist Dr. Cornel West and Carl Dix, a spokesman for the Revolutionary Communist Party, held a strategy session to discuss how to take action against the New York Police Department’s policies of racial profiling, police brutality, and mass incarceration of young blacks and Latinos. At the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Attica Riots, they announced the day—October 21—as the beginning of the “Stop Stop-and-Frisk” movement, beginning with a march and action of nonviolent civil disobedience at the 28th Precinct in Harlem, and hopefully gathering momentum and spreading throughout New York City and communities of color around the United States.
Coincidentally, October 21 in New York City happened to fall at the height of Occupy Wall Street.
Occupy Wall Street has experienced its own bitter taste of police brutality. Almost 1,000 protesters have been arrested in New York City. They are often thrown to the ground, belittled and arrested on charges such as “resisting arrest” when their only crime is exercising their First Amendment right. Protesters have often been penned in, surrounded by orange nets, unaware that they are under arrest until it is too late. NYPD officer Anthony Bologna is being penalized 10 vacation days and may face charges of assault for pepper-spraying five women, inadvertently turning public attention toward the New York Police Department’s policing practices.
What many of the predominantly white protesters in Liberty Plaza didn’t realize until recently is that their experiences are only a small taste of the police brutality that communities of color experience on a daily basis.
“My first thoughts after seeing five white women get pepper-sprayed in the face was, what would they have done to a black man?” mused one man at the Harlem rally.
If a black or Latino man is arrested at a demonstration of civil disobedience, it will affect his life far more than if he were white. Many young blacks and Latinos—due to racial profiling in common police practices such as stop-and-frisk—already have a police record, and can’t afford to risk being put through the system again. As it is, one in 15 black adults is behind bars, and the statistic climbs to one in nine for black males between the ages of 20 and 34. To many communities of color, the New York Police Department is not a force that maintains order, but one that institutionalizes racial inequalities, segregating blacks and Latinos into a pipeline toward mass incarceration and criminalization.