Calling for Police Commissioner's Resignation, Occupy Wall Street Teams Up With Victims of NYPD's Stop-and-Frisk
A rally on Tuesday increased the public pressure on Commissioner Ray Kelly and the NYPD following a series of recent controversies over the policing of Occupy protests, surveillance of Muslim communities and the use of stop-and-frisk powers.
The rally was inspired by Saturday's mass arrest of at least 73 Occupy protesters in lower Manhattan. Many Occupiers have described the evening as one of the most violent police crackdowns since the movement began in September.
Occupy's response to the weekend's events was to call on communities who have also expressed frustration with NYPD policies and tactics. A further rally and mass action is planned for Saturday.
Tuesday's event began with a silent march from Foley Square to the NYPD's headquarters at One Police Plaza.
Roughly 100 activists walked with their hands bound behind their backs in flex cuffs, many with tape over their mouths. At the front of the march demonstrators held a large banner that read "Kelly must resign." In a demonstration that was equal parts somber and emotional, activists denounced the department as violent and racially biased.
After arriving at NYPD headquarters, juvenile justice activist Chino Hardin told the rally: "Real community safety does not begin with NYPD. It begins with the community. You wanna know how to keep us safe? Ask us!" A convicted felon, Hardin now works with the Center for New Leadership, an organization run by formerly incarcerated individuals.
Hardin targeted the department's widespread use of stop, question and frisk tactics. The controversial searches have increased over 600% in the last 10 years. Commissioner Kelly and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg say the stops keep weapons off the streets and save the lives of young men of color.
Critics say the practice is an institutionalized violation of fourth amendment rights that yields marginal results while disproportionately impacting the very group the mayor and commissioner say it protects.
"Yeah, I'm angry," Hardin added. "I'm angry because every time I look around there's a black or Latino boy or girl being illegally searched. Every time I turn on the news you portray us to be animals."
Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, has been a vocal critic of the NYPD's recently-exposed practice of monitoring Muslim Americans based on religion. Sarsour called on Occupy Wall Street's supporters to, "stand up and say no. Stop spying and harassing and intimidating the Muslim community for being Muslim."
"I commit myself and our community to the Occupy Wall Street movement and look for your solidarity with our community," she said.
In the days that have followed Saturday's crackdown, an increasing number of allegations of serious police abuse have surfaced. Occupiers are quick to add, however, that their experiences pale in comparison to the lives of individuals living in low-income communities and and communities of color.
Addressing the crowd on Tuesday, Occupier Jennifer Waler, who was arrested on Saturday, said a police officer threatened to Tase her and take her to a psychiatric ward because she was singing in her jail cell.
"Yes, on Saturday the police were brutal," Waller said. "This is just the tip of the iceberg."
"In Harlem they beat and arrest people just for walking down the street. In the Bronx they shoot people point blank in their own bathroom," she added, referring to the police shooting of unarmed 19 year-old Ramarley Graham in February.
"The NYPD surveils, targets and entraps Muslim people, creating convoluted schemes to legitimize the war on terror through racist policing, and they never ever pay a price," she went on to say.
Occupier Jose Whelan, agreed that the issue of police violence extends beyond the treatment of Occupy Wall Street protesters. On Saturday night, Whelan's arrest drew attention from around the country, as photos showed a massive crack in glass door that a police officer threw him into.
Whelan was arrested for disorderly conduct while standing on a public sidewalk in an incident witnessed by the Guardian. He was punched in the face multiple times. It came without warning, Whelan said.
"They just grabbed me and started punching me. Nothing like, 'You're under arrest.' Nothing like, 'Put your hands behind your back'."
Whelan sees the opposition to police violence described at Tuesday's event as an interconnected struggle that predates Occupy Wall Street by generations.
"The work we've been doing for a long time in Occupy is really trying to connect to the groups who've been doing it for a really long time. There's community organizations here that have been doing it for 30 years, tirelessly, in the communities that are much more strongly effected, that don't have a team of cameras and a team of jail support and a team of lawyers behind them when this stuff happens. And this stuff happens every single night in New York City.