Cornel West, Others Arrested as 'Stop Stop-and-Frisk' Movement Against Police Abuse Kicks Off with Occupy Wall Street Support
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.
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.
“I don’t fault people for not knowing that this happens,” Carl Dix told me. “That’s a conspicuous policy on the part of the people who run this country—blacks are the problem and we have to devise a solution, while keeping the white middle-class unaware. I want to bring Occupy Wall Street to what is actually happening. I want to challenge them: now that you know, are you going to act?”
Earlier in the week, activists at Occupy Wall Street began to pass around “Stop Stop and Frisk” flyers during the General Assembly. Dix made several guest appearances at Liberty Plaza to mobilize solidarity to harness Occupy Wall Street’s energy to combat all police brutality. The People of Color Occupy Wall Street Working Group pushed to endorse the movement, discussing the urgency of the issue. Thursday night, Occupy Wall Street endorsed the movement, claiming, “How can we truly stand as the 99 percent, if we don’t stand with the people of Harlem?”
On Friday, several protesters—a healthy mix of black, brown and white—from Occupy Wall Street assembled, joining the Stop Stop-and-Frisk rally in both solidarity and civil disobedience. Though they were met with curious stares while marching through Zuccotti Park, upon reaching the streets of Harlem they were greeted with cheers and messages of support and gratitude from street vendors, shopkeepers and passersby.
Dr. Cornel West addressed the crowd at the Harlem State Office Building on the corner of 125th St. and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard. “This corner has been consecrated by giants like Malcolm X, Ella Baker, Marcus Garvey, Martin King, and Fannie Lou Hamer,” began Dr. West. “We are here today because we have come to terms with arbitrary police power to ensure that the rights of poor young people, disproportionately black and brown, are acknowledged and affirmed.”
After marching to the precinct, those who were willing to get arrested—many of them young black and Latino men who have spent their lives trying to avoid a police record—linked arms in front of the precinct, chanting until they were inevitably hauled away in plastic cuffs. Cornel West, who was arrested only a few days in Washington DC, Carl Dix, Reverend Stephen Phelps, and several other organizers and activists were among the 33 arrested outside of the 28th Precinct.
This is only the beginning of Stop Stop-and-Frisk. Next week it will hold actions in Brooklyn, and after that, East Harlem and the South Bronx. Strategy meetings are being planned, both separate from and in conjunction with Occupy Wall Street. Though the movements were originally organized separately, they occurred at a progressive nexus in history that is too coincidental to be ignored. Both movements have demonstrated that this is only the beginning of a continuous and persistent battle. Creating a permanent alliance between the two movements could mean diversifying and expanding Occupy Wall Street and spreading the call to stop stop-and-frisk beyond communities of color as a collective force against police brutality of all kinds, and in all communities.
In the words of Carl Dix, “We are not going to stop—and maybe the NYPD will give us a little extra time in jail to further figure out our movement.”