Editor's Note: On Sunday (Father's Day), thousands of New Yorkers marched down Fifth Avenue in a silent protest against the New York Police Department's (NYPD) Stop and Frisk Policy. Stop-and-frisk, the policy in which police officers can stop and search individuals they consider to look suspicious, predominantly targets young Latino and Black men and has been a source of criticism against Mayor Bloomberg and police commissioner Raymond Kelly. Mahlet Seyoum attended the protest with her father and reported live. The following is her live report. For a full explanation of why protesters feel stop and frisk has failed, see Justine Gonzalez's article "NYPD Stop and Frisk Law is Racist and the Shame of New York."
It was truly a silent protest. I walked down New York City's Fifth avenue around 3:00pm on Sunday afternoon after a Father’s Day lunch with my dad in Harlem in order to interview those involved in the End Stop and Frisk March.
We walked about 15-20 blocks, passed by a huge cycling event (The Harlem Skyscraper Cycling Classic), and grumbled about the irony of being unable to locate a protest march. Finally, we found the protesters on the corner of 110th street and Fifth Avenue, where we were met by a diverse group of people. Some were walking, some were being pushed in strollers, and many more than I expected were walking with canes. There were men and women of all races and ages carrying signs and walking in groups with large banners.
All were silent. I gave my dad the universal shhhh-sign, and we walked off the sidewalk into what we’d later find out was a gathering of close to 10,000 silent people.
As my luck would have it, I found quite a few people willing to talk. I approached an interracial, elderly duo who stood with signs on the sidewalk at about 103rd. Nancy Narrow had moved to New York City from Detroit in 1958 and has called it home since then. She and her friend who had lived in Harlem his entire life were at the march for a simple reason: they loved their community, they loved New York City, and they didn’t like what the stop and frisk policies were doing to it. “I’ve had friends locked up,” the unnamed gentleman, likely in his 70s, recalled. “Stop and Frisk isn’t helping anybody. It’s not good for our community, and it’s unjust.”
Dawit Getachew, the Associate Director of Policy and Community Development at the Bronx Defenders, a public defense legal organization housed in the South Bronx, spoke at length about those same injustices. “This march brings everyone together as a direct challenge to a policy that is devastating communities of color. It challenges their belief that it works.” “Their” being the New York Police Department and the office of Mayor Bloomberg, who has recently gone on record touting the benefits of Stop and Frisk and his support of it. “Every year we see thousands of people who are brought through the criminal justice system and face losing their jobs and their housing.” Dawit continued. “The policy has created a hostile relationship between the police and the community, it forces police to work much harder for little added returns, and criminalizes young men of color in their own communities. At the end of the day, the policy doesn’t work.”
I spoke to a police officer, Officer Walton, who suprisingly seemed to agree. “We do what we have to do,” he responded when I asked how he felt about the policy. “If they stopped it today, I’d be happy to stop. It isn’t my desire to come to work and frisk people.” Throughout my few hours marching down from 110th street to 77th, I met a number of people from different walks of life who were all of the same accord. Another was Armando Somoza, who I met while taking a pit stop for water at an outdoor cafe close to 77th, and asked immediately about the huge camera he was seated with. “It’s a Canon 60D. We’re capturing footage for a documentary we’re making this summer on flawed legislation that promotes racial profiling.”
It was this comment that finally made my Dad break our vow of silence and chuckle. “Look at all these people you’ve met today, and all of these people marching.” I looked at the mass that stood in front of the chartered buses that brought some of the groups that included the NYC Quakers, The United Federation of Teachers, and the NY State Nurses Association down to the march.
Amidst all the protesters, it was easy to ask, “Who actually supports this legislation?” But of course, some do support this heavily protested and contested policy. The question remains: At what cost?
At the cost of a community living day-to-day with no voice to speak out against a policy that disproportionately affects them? At the cost of a generation of youth being marked and treated as criminals outside their own home, and the subsequent psychological effects of that unfounded criminalization? At the cost of ignoring or inadequately contesting a large amount of evidence (both statistical and anecdotal) that stop and frisk does little to keep guns off the street, and to make people feel safe? The 10,000 or so New York City residents who came out with banners and signs, strollers and canes on Sunday afternoon came with a strong agenda to uphold, and a very important statement to make.
They did just that, strongly and silently, and it’s time Mayor Bloomberg’s office listen up.
See 10 photos of the protests here.