Thousands of New Yorkers silently marched from Harlem to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Upper East Side home on Sunday, in a protest of the New York Police Department’s discriminatory stop-and-frisk practices. The multi-racial and cross-generational show of force included community members, local organizations, religious groups and unions, whose somber Father’s Day procession down 5th Ave was a powerful show of resistance to a practice that they say violates their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
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 focal point of criticism against Mayor Bloomberg and his police commissioner, Raymond Kelly. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), 84 percent of individuals stopped and frisked in 2011 were black or Latino, even though they respectively comprise only about 23 percent and 29 percent of New York City’s total population.
While 685,724 people were stopped by the NYPD in 2011 alone, the policy, which is meant to cut down on gun violence, had only a 1.9 percent success rate in finding weapons. Instead, it has lead to increased policing of low-income neighborhoods and confrontations between police and young minority males. The February death of Ramarley Graham, an unarmed teenager who was shot by an NYPD officer as he fled from an attempted stop-and-frisk, has heightened awareness of the controversial policing tactic.
Marchers spoke freely about their experiences while gathering on the north side of Central Park. Tairece Flowers, 17, was with a community group called El Puente. “I have a friend who got beat up by the police. They maced his eye. They threw him on the ground, put their knee on his face, and he didn’t do anything wrong. It feels very unsafe,” he said while holding a banner calling for an end to police brutality. “A lot of people are very afraid to walk and be free. They feel that the people who are supposed to be protecting them are actually bullying them.” Once the march began, participants were instructed to respect the call for silence. As the route went south, the chatter dropped away, leaving only the sound of walking and birds chirping from nearby Central Park. An NYPD Community Affairs officer respectfully whispered to marchers as she tried to cross the street.
Celeste Kirkland, a power cable maintainer for the MTA and a vice-chair of the Transit Workers Union (TWU), was stopped and frisked while shopping near her home in Harlem. “A cop grabbed me. I put a report on them and they did nothing about it,” she explained before the march began. While it’s not unusual for women to be stopped and frisked, men are usually the targets. Organizers planned the march for Father’s Day to focus attention on how the policy continues decades of injustice against minority males. Kirkland reflected, “It’s very important to do it on Father’s Day because it says, ‘Fathers, men, we support you, and we know that this is wrong.’”