Revolution #248, October 23, 2011
Harlem, October 21
An Audacious Start to the Movement to STOP Stop and Frisk
It's 12:30 pm on Friday, October 21, in front of the State Office Building on 125th Street in Harlem—a bright, sunny afternoon and something beautiful and audacious is about to happen. You get the feeling that pockets of people across the street, at the edge of the plaza, around and about are watching to see how this will go. Organizers are flyering and telling everybody walking by to stay put—in a few minutes, Cornel West, Carl Dix of the Revolutionary Communist Party, Reverend Stephen Phelps from Riverside Church, Reverend Earl Kooperkamp from St. Mary's Church, and a bunch of other people are going to rally here and then go to the 28th precinct three blocks away to do civil disobedience to STOP "stop and frisk"—the racist, illegal practice by the NYPD under which hundreds of thousands of people each year, 80% of them Black and Latino, are humiliated, brutalized, and worse. The civil disobedience protest, part of a campaign initiated by Carl Dix and Cornel West, was called by the Stop Mass Incarceration Network.
Some of the volunteers handing out flyers have never done anything like this. One is a Black university student who has been stopped and frisked twice since he arrived in NYC from the South just a few weeks ago. He feels like it's time to do something about it. Some people are making their own signs on the spot; others come up, grab a sign, and stand at the ready. The family and friends of Luis Soto, a victim of police brutality, is present with signs saying "We are All Luis Soto." There is a lot of excitement, but this protest is also controversial—a few people argue angrily that it will only make things worse to resist.
|Photos: Li Onesto|
At 12:45 the group at the plaza, now 30-40 people, hears drumming and chanting from a block away—"STOP Stop and Frisk! Cease and Desist! STOP Stop and Frisk! Cease and Desist!" Cheers and whistles break out as 75 people who have come from Occupy Wall Street (OWS) march into the plaza. They have come on the subway from downtown. People from Occupy Wall Street, revolutionary communists, local residents, and others start taking turns speaking to the growing crowd. People move in close to hear as the group does "mic check! mic check!"—the OWS technique of circumventing the police ban on amplified sound by calling on people to repeat en masse what is said by each speaker so everyone can hear.
Just the night before, the General Assembly of Occupy Wall Street, at a meeting of several hundred people, had unanimously endorsed the STOP Stop and Frisk action. Several of the OWS activists have come to join the group that will be arrested. Others have come to support and bear witness. Their group includes five volunteer first-aid medical workers as well as young people of all nationalities from around the country, some of whom just arrived at NYC OWS. The Harlem STOP Stop and Frisk action is being live-streamed for two hours on the NYC OWS website.
John, a young Black veteran who has been part of the occupation and who is going to be a part of the group doing civil disobedience in front of the precinct, had spoken at the General Assembly at Occupy Wall Street the night before, about why they should endorse the STOP Stop and Frisk action. He had said at the General Assembly:
"Hi, my name is John and I'm from NY. I'm also a U.S. Navy veteran. And I also want to share something with you. I have had my own personal experience with stop and frisk. To make a long story short, my friend and I were driving to a restaurant one night and were stopped by undercover detectives. They forced us out of the car, hand-cuffed us, had us sit on the sidewalk while they searched the vehicle, and searched our persons. The made us get to the front of the car, after they had found nothing and then asked us to dance for them. The dance is called the chicken noodle soup. This needs to stop now. There's one more thing, this is very embarrassing and humiliating, It should not happen to any American. That's all I want to say and have a good night."
John says he is telling his story, even though it is humiliating to him every time he tells it, because it needs to be told and this needs to stop. He tells the crowd in Harlem that he is a Black man with no criminal record, but now he will have one.
By 1:00 pm, the scheduled beginning time for the rally, the speak-out was already well underway with a crowd of 200. Carl Dix, Cornel West, Reverend Phelps, Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, Debra Sweet and Elaine Brower of World Can't Wait, and several of the others planning to be arrested arrived and made their way through the densely packed group to speak. It was a strikingly diverse gathering of people—about two-thirds Black and Latino, the rest white, all ages. Most of the OWS group was college age, and there were many more college-age people of all nationalities in the crowd as well. There were activists of all kinds, including several older long-time anti-war activists. People of all ages joined from the neighborhood. Many had heard about the action by getting a flyer or meeting an organizer earlier in the week.
By 1:00 there was also a crush of cameras and several dozen reporters from local and major media in the U.S. and some international. Stop and frisk has begun to be a question broadly. In the previous few days, the Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and New York State Senator Eric Adams had called for a federal investigation of stop and frisk, and there has been a scandal with a Staten Island cop caught on tape bragging about "burning a n*****" when making a false arrest of a Black man after a stop and frisk.
Those planning to be arrested spoke about why they have decided to do this. Carl Dix said, “We are here today to put our bodies on the line to stop this racist, immoral, illegitimate and unjust ‘new Jim Crow' from the gateway of stop and frisk to the wholesale mass incarceration of Black and Brown people. We are serious and we will continue until we stop Stop and Frisk." Carl read a quote from BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian: "No more generations of our youth, here and all around the world, whose life is over, whose fate has been sealed, who have been condemned to and early death or a life of misery and brutality, whom the system has destined for oppression and oblivion even before they are born. I say no more of that." (BAsics 1:13)
Reverend Phelps from Riverside Church spoke about his experience with prisoners at Rikers Island prison, and started a chant, "Stop & Frisk don't stop the crime, Stop & Frisk IS the crime." Professor Jim Vrettos from John Jay College of Criminal Justice talked about his belief that stop and frisk is not an effective crime deterrent and called for Jewish people to stand against it as a matter of conscience. Elaine Brower of World Can't Wait said that as a white person living comfortably in Staten Island, she had never experienced stop and frisk, but that of all the horrors this government commits, this is one of the most egregious and she could not live with herself without being part of stopping it.
At the edges of the crowd, the media interviewed people from the neighborhood who told about being stopped and frisked—and later that night, some of these stories broke the sound barrier into mainstream news broadcasts for the first time.
Meanwhile, knots of people intensely discussed and debated with each other. Could this accomplish anything? Could this really be the beginning of a movement that could make stop and frisk stop? Many people in Harlem have been closely watching the brutal police treatment of the Wall Street occupiers in the last few weeks, and now Harlem residents and OWS youth were meeting each other. A few people wondered why these white kids from downtown thought they could come to Harlem and talk about oppression. People would be learning and thinking new things as the afternoon came on. And the answer to their questions would resound that afternoon: Yes, this is the beginning of a movement that can and will achieve the goal of STOP Stop and Frisk. And it is a movement that will be all the more powerful by bringing forward people of all nationalities and from all different walks of life to join together to put an end to this horror. It is a great step forward when fighters on one front take up the fight on all fronts.
As the resisters stepped off for the three-block march to the precinct, the crowd grew to several hundred, with Cornel West, Carl Dix, and the others planning to be arrested taking the front in two rows, arm in arm. Drumming and chanting pulsed up and down the march. People on the sidelines stopped to watch, whipping out cell phones to take photos and videos as the march went by. Youth on the street were amazed: "They're going up in their face at the precinct!" The scene was electric. No one had ever seen or experienced anything like this.
At the precinct, the crowd moved in close as those planning to be arrested lined up and locked arms, blocking the front of the building in an act of civil disobedience. The police had put up metal barricades to control the crowd supporting and bearing witness—but people filled the sidewalk for the full block, with dozens more watching from across the street and on the corners. As several of those preparing to do the civil disobedience made statements, others were still making their decisions on the spot to hop the barricades and join them.
The crowd was tense as the police announced that those who refused to move from the front of the building would be arrested. More than 30 people were then taken one by one, plastic-cuffed and led into waiting police vans as those bearing witness cheered in support and chanted with determination. As the arrests finished, police moved aggressively against a film person for the Pacifica news show Democracy Now. A member of the People's Neighborhood Patrol of Harlem, whose stated purpose is to prevent the police from violating the rights of people or brutalizing them under the color of authority, was pushed, tackled on the ground by the police, and arrested. Anger rippled through the crowd and chants went up of "This is what a police state looks like!" and "The whole world is watching!" People came together and urgently discussed next steps, and then stepped off to march toward the precinct where those arrested were being taken—over two miles away.
The group wound its way through the streets and projects in Harlem, with a short speak-out midway. An elderly anti-war activist made a poignant statement that this was a day she had been waiting for for a long, long time. One spirited group then headed off to go the rest of the way to the 33rd precinct where they rallied in support of those being held there, and others made their way back to the Occupy Wall Street encampment to tell people about what had happened today.
The Harlem civil disobedience action was covered in major media in the U.S. (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Salon.com, AP, etc.) and around the world. A report and video on the action were posted on the OWS site.
As this article is being posted, all those arrested have been released with minor violations except two young organizers for the STOP Stop and Frisk Network—one of them the member of the People's Neighborhood Patrol of Harlem who was arrested as the police went after the film person for Democracy Now. They were not released until Saturday night, and are expected to face more serious charges. People are being called on to demand from the Mayor's and District Attorney's offices that charges be dropped.
A new resistance was born with the October 21 action in Harlem, determined to STOP stop and frisk and end mass incarceration—it was real, and people felt it. Some of the boundaries dividing people and weighing down those on the bottom of society were trampled. There were those who hung at the edge of the crowd as the afternoon began, skeptical about young white people coming to Harlem to talk about oppression, who later jumped in and started encouraging people in the projects and the neighborhood to "join us, join us!" There were the young people on 125th Street who ran across the street to embrace people they recognized in the march, and other youth from the neighborhood who stepped to the front. There was the young man heading into the projects loaded down with bags of groceries who told a young OWS person that "If you were here for any other reason I would tell you to get the fuck out of my way, but this is cool. This is good." The coming together of young people, from the middle classes of all nationalities, who are so deeply disaffected and disturbed by the future for themselves and the world under American capitalism, with those who are most deeply suppressed, degraded, and denied their humanity under this system, was righteous and powerful. It started to lift the ceiling on what is possible.
On Thursday, the day before the civil disobedience, Carl Dix wrote on Huffington Post: "This is the reality of what goes on in New York City alone with the New York Police Department's policy of 'Stop & Frisk.' More than 83 percent of those stopped are Black or Latino, many are as young as 11 or 12, and more than 90 percent of them were doing nothing wrong when the police stopped, humiliated, brutalized them or worse. This policy is wrong. It is illegal, racist, unconstitutional and intolerable! It is just one of the many pipelines into the wholesale mass incarceration of a generation of Black and Latino youth. Today there are more than two million people held in prison in the U.S. That is the largest prison population in the world! And it's not just men; more than one third of all women imprisoned in the entire world are in prison in the U.S. Just like the Jim Crow of my youth, this 'New Jim Crow' of mass incarceration and criminalization is totally unjust, immoral, and illegitimate. But just like that like racist regime, it is part of a conscious policy whose roots of white supremacy lie deep within the economic, social, political and ideological fabric of America.
"...yesterday wouldn't be soon enough to get rid of this system that causes so much misery not only to Black and Latino people in the U.S., but to all those disgruntled masses showing up at the many occupations springing up across the U.S., and among the many victims of the U.S.'s wars of aggression in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. Not to mention the environmental devastation being wrought on this planet through capitalist pollution and blind competition.
"Even short of revolution—that is, even if you aren't convinced of the need for revolution or even if you are and want to build up the strength towards the day when such a revolution will be possible—it is incumbent upon all of us to stand up today against and stop one of the greatest crimes taking place every day in plain sight. 'Stop & Frisk' is totally illegitimate and unjust. It is destroying spirits and brutalizing bodies on a mass scale. It is imprinting a tremendous psychic scar, and real shackles and chains, an on an entire generation and is part of a whole system that has no future for our youth.
"It is time—it is past time—for all of us who refuse to sit aside as slow genocide takes place beneath our noses to stand up. From 'Up Against the Wall' to 'Up In Their Faces!' October 21st, we will be conducting non-violent civil disobedience at the 28th police precinct in Harlem, New York City... we are putting themselves on the line to STOP IT. This is the beginning; this is serious; we won't stop until Stop & Frisk is ended."
Friday in Harlem: this was a beginning—a powerful and beautiful beginning—and now this resistance is on. The first wave of new freedom fighters have taken on the New Jim Crow. Now it's up to more people to step up, to be part of planning more actions, starting now—growing this movement, deepening its determination and strength, and involving many, many more people who will not stop until we STOP mass incarceration and STOP stop and frisk.
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