Thousands March Silently to Protest Stop-and-Frisk Policies

July 12, 2012 by  


By John Leland and Colin Moynihan

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File:  A Muslim “Silent Marcher” holds up a sign.

In a slow, somber procession, several thousand demonstrators conducted a silent march on Sunday down Fifth Avenue to protest the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policies, which the organizers say single out minority groups and create an atmosphere of martial law for the city’s black and Latino residents.

Two and a half hours after it began, the peaceful, disciplined march ended in mild disarray. As many marchers dispersed, police officers at 77th Street and Fifth Avenue began pushing a crowd that defied orders to leave the intersection, shoving some to the ground and forcing the protesters to a sidewalk, where they were corralled behind metal barricades. After protesters pushed back, the officers used an orange net to clear the sidewalk, and appeared to arrest at least three people.

The presence of several elected officials at the march, including the Democratic mayoral hopefuls Bill de Blasio, the public advocate; Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker; Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president; and William C. Thompson, the former city comptroller, seemed to signal a solidifying opposition to the policy, which has long been opposed by civil rights groups.
Wade Cummings, 46, a teacher, attended with his 19-year-old son, Tarik. Both said they had been stopped by police officers — once for the father, three times for the son.
“I’m concerned about him being stopped and it escalating,” the father said. “I like to believe I taught him not to escalate this situation, but you never know how it’s going to go down.”
Police officers stopped nearly 700,000 people last year, 87 percent of them black or Latino. Of those stopped, more than half were also frisked.

The protest, which began at 3 p.m., followed recent remarks by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg that he planned to scale back and amend the practice, amid escalating protests.
“It’s clear that the mayor and police commissioner are hearing the message,” said Leslie Cagan, one of the march’s organizers. “They’re taking steps that might be small improvements, but what’s really needed is a stopping of stop-and-frisk. Many cities have had significant reductions of crime without it.”

Mr. Bloomberg has argued that stop-and-frisk gets guns off the street and reduces crime. The march, which stretched for about 20 blocks, ended at East 78th Street, a block from the mayor’s residence.
Demonstrators mostly adhered to the organizers’ call to march in silence, hushing talkers along the route. Members of labor unions and the N.A.A.C.P. appeared to predominate, but there were also student groups, Occupy Wall Street, Common Cause, the Universal Zulu Nation and the Answer Coalition. A group of Quakers carried a banner criticizing the stop-and-frisk practice; other signs read, “Skin Color Is Not Reasonable Suspicion” and “Stop & Frisk: The New Jim Crow.”

As of Friday, 299 organizations had endorsed the march, including unions, religious groups and Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Arab, and Jewish groups. The turnout reflected the growing alliance between civil rights groups and gay and lesbian activists, who in past years have often kept each other at arm’s length. Last month, the board of the N.A.A.C.P., which includes several church leaders, voted to endorse same-sex marriage. The roster of support for the march on Sunday included at least 28 gay, lesbian and transgender groups.

Chris Bilal, 24, who is black and gay, said he had been stopped three times, the last time while dancing with two friends in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem. “Sometimes I’m targeted as a drug dealer, sometimes as someone interfering with the quality of life, sometimes as a gay African-American man in a place I don’t belong,” he said. The idea for the demonstration took root three months ago in Selma, Ala., after a commemoration of the 1965 civil rights march there, said Benjamin Todd Jealous, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., who met there with the Rev. Al Sharpton and George Gresham, president of 1199 S.E.I.U. United Healthcare Workers East.

Mr. Jealous rejected the argument set forward by Mr. Bloomberg and the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, that stop-and-frisk policing reduced crime and improved the quality of life in black and Latino neighborhoods.

“Stop-and-frisk is a political tool, victimizing one group of people so another group feels protected,” Mr. Jealous said. “It’s humiliating hundreds of thousands of people.”

According to a report by the New York Civil Liberties Union, during the 10 years of the Bloomberg administration, the police have performed 4,356,927 stops, including 685,724 last year. Among African-American males ages 14 to 24, the number of stops last year was greater than their total population.

One man who held a sign that read “Stop Racial Profiling” said he came to Central Park to relax but decided to join the march because of his own experiences with the police.

“It happened to me about 10 times,” said the man, Bruce Fitzgerald, 48, of the Bronx.

Seeking a contrast to some recent Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, organizers called for a disciplined, orderly march, with no clashes with the police. Though protesters did not have a permit, organizers said that their talks with the police had been cordial and cooperative, and that they did not expect conflict.

“This policy did not emanate from the rank-and-file police officers, and we’re not protesting them,” said Mr. Gresham, who was arrested at an Occupy protest in November. “We’re not going to the police commissioner’s home. We’re going to the mayor’s home, because he is the guardian of New York.”

But along the mayor’s street, the police used metal barricades to close the sidewalks and turned away pedestrians, including those unconnected to the march. For the second consecutive Sunday, Mr. Bloomberg took to the pulpit at a predominantly African-American church in Brooklyn and defended the stop-and-frisk program, saying it needed to be “mended, not ended.”

Speaking at the Christian Cultural Center, he told parishioners that violent crime had dropped during his tenure in office, in part because of the practice. But he acknowledged that the police could handle the interactions with more courtesy.

“If you’ve done nothing wrong, you deserve nothing but respect and courtesy from the police,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “Police Commissioner Kelly and I both believe we can do a better job in this area — and he’s instituted a number of reforms to do that.”

At the end of the march, Mr. Jealous, who walked with his 6-year-old daughter, Morgan, on his shoulders, said the silence conveyed the seriousness of the demonstrators.

“In this city of so much hustle and bustle and clamor, sometimes the loudest thing you can do is move together in silence,” he said.

But a few dozen voiced their disagreement with the strategy at the march’s end, chanting: “We can’t be silent. We got to fight back.”

Nate Schweber contributed reporting.

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