Thousands of civil rights activists, LGBT leaders, labor and community organizers, and citizens outraged by New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy are marching today in a demonstration against the law enforcement tactic they say is a legally dubious form of institutionalized racial profiling.
And in a change from typical rallies, this one will be entirely silent.
“In contrast to previous demonstrations, we will march in silence as an illustration of both the tragedy and serious threat that stop and frisk and other forms of racial profiling present to our society,” the march’s official site states. “Silence is a powerful force that, like other forms of non-violent protest, holds a mirror to the brutality of one’s opponents.”
The idea for the march comes from an NAACP-organized even almost 100 years ago, when civil rights activists marched wordlessly through New York City to draw attention to race riots, segregation and lynching in America. Organizers for today’s march, which again includes the NAACP, hope that it will serve as a powerful, non-violent symbol against a policy that has escalated tensions between police and the city’s black communities.
“Every criminologist will tell you that when you engage in massive, street-level racial profiling, you build a wall between the most victimized communities in the city and the cops,” NAACP President Ben Jealous said Sunday morning on MSNBC.
Organizers are hoping for up to 25,000 people to join the march, which will run from Harlem and end at New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s house. The end point is sitting, as stop-and-frisks have come under increasing fire as the practice has grown more widespread under Bloomberg’s watch. According to data from the New York Civil Liberties Union, New York police officers conducted nearly 685,724 stop-and-frisks last year, a 600 percent increase since Bloomberg first took office. Eighty-eight percent of the people stopped in those incidents were found totally innocent; eighty-seven percent of those stopped were black or Latino.
Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have defended the policy, saying that it is both legal and a necessary tool to combat crime. However, a federal judge last month raised questions about the legality of stop-and-frisks as implemented in New York, saying that by the city’s own account some of the stops did not meet the Constitutional requirements for searches.
The march also represents an important union between LGBT and civil rights activists, as the two groups, both of which have long been on the receiving end of discrimination, have come together to jointly protest a discriminatory policy.
“In most cities, when you ask, ‘Who gets beaten up by the cops?,” Jealous said during the same MSNBC appearance. “Frequently the answer that comes back is black people, people of color, and the gay community.”
“So it made all the sense in the world to stand there at the Stonewall Inn [site of what is considered the flashpoint moment for LGBT rights in America]with the leaders of 35 gay, lesbian, bisexual transgender groups surrounding us saying, ‘On this issue we stand with the black community, we stand with the brown community, people of color, because we know what its like to be targeted for what you are, not what you’re doing,” Jealous added.
Jon Terbush is a Boston-based writer whose work has appeared in Talking Points Memo, Business Insider, the New Haven Register, and elsewhere. He tweets about politics, cats, and baseball via @jonterbush.
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