The first Stop Stop and Frisk action was in Harlem. Thirty-four community members, including Cornel West, blocked the 28th precinct’s entrance and were arrested. The second was to take place at the 73rd precinct in Brownsville, Brooklyn. The NYPD policy of Stop and Frisk has been called illegal and unconstitutional by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the New York Civil Liberties Union. It overwhelmingly targets black and Latino men, and only results in arrests one percent of the time. In 2010, there were 600,000 stop and frisks in New York. In Brownsville, there are more stop and frisks than anywhere else in the city.
On the day of the second action, M. and I walked to the 3 train at Franklin Avenue. It’s sunny and cold and there’s no evidence of last weekend’s snowstorm. M. is planning on getting arrested. When we get to the corner of Rockaway and Livonia, we see a reporter from News 12 setting up her camera in front of the Tilden Projects, also known as the pink houses, according to my neighbor who has a niece and nephew who live there. I cross the street to hand out flyers. People stop in their tracks when I explain to them what we’re doing.
“The rally is right across the street,” I say. “Then we’re marching to the 73rd precinct.”
“Oh no, they don’t like me over at the 73rd,” a young man with a shaved head says.
One of the organizers is frustrated that more people from the neighborhood aren’t coming out. “These people need to stand up. It’s their lives being threatened, the people who live here are the ones who need to come forward.”
My friend Ramdasha disagrees. “People who don’t have criminal records, who aren’t targeted, are the ones who need to stand up. What would happen if thirty white people blocked a precinct?”
“Maybe this train’s the one with all the people,” G. says. From the top of the station stairs we can hear drums beating and people chanting, “We won’t stop until they stop Stop and Frisk.”
Some of the kids getting off the train are high schoolers who have volunteered to be arrested today. They have on heavy eyeliner and one is wearing a fur hat.
“You guys look great,” I say.
“You gotta go out in style,” one replies.
It’s a little after four and the rally is starting.
Carl Dix is speaking.
“Stop and Frisk is unconstitutional, illegal, and racist. Allow me to introduce this generation’s Freedom Riders. And some older folks too. Will everyone who is doing civil disobedience please come up?”
The twenty-seven people who are going to be arrested come forward as the crowd falls silent. They look strong, intent but also scared, like they need our support.
A priest takes the people’s mic. “If you think praying to God is going to change this system, you’re wrong. Change only happens when the people take it to the streets. Get out of the churches, into the streets.”
We begin marching.
Halfway through the march, Svetlana passes me the corner of the sign she’s holding: “From Up Against the Wall to Up in Their Faces.” It’s five feet tall, the only one of its size, and I feel as though I have suddenly landed a star role in the protest. Quickly, I pass it on. Someone uses a bullhorn but the batteries are low, so it’s not very loud.
“We say no to the new Jim Crow! Stop and Frisk has got to go!” On Pitkin Avenue, old people sit in chairs under trees and look on as we march past them. Some seem bewildered but others are cheering. A couple cops of walk in the road to keep us on the sidewalk, but we are staying on the sidewalk anyway. I march alongside a young girl and her mother. The girl is obviously excited to be holding her sign, which is almost as tall as she is and reads, “This System Has No Future for the Youth, Revolution Does!” Her mother smiles in encouragement as the girl joins the chant. “Stop and Frisk Don’t Stop the Crime, Stop and Frisk is the Crime.”
On Bristol Street a young protester points to the building on our right. “There’s the juvenile jail. That place is like hell, I know!” He signals to the building to our left: “Here’s the 73rd Precinct.”
Until now there has been a steady run of conversation. We have been taking note of our comrades and making small talk with people who are, for this moment, friends. But as we approach the precinct, the conversations peter out and together we chant louder than before, over and over, “Cease and desist! Stop Stop and Frisk!”
At Thomas S. Boyland Street and E. New York Avenue, rows of NYPD and Community Affairs officers stand in formation waiting for us. They look ready but not worried. They know the procedure. In front of them metal barricades are arranged into a pen. One of the march organizers cries, “Mic check. Those of you who do not want to be arrested, please stand over there!” He points inside the pen. “Those of you who do plan on being arrested will be walking over to the line of police!” I stand in the pen next to the mother and daughter. A small, older woman with gray hair under her beret grins up at me: “Call me old-fashioned but I have a very hard time believing that it’s a good idea to walk into a police pen! This, in my experience, is what I call a trap!” She leaves the pen and scolds the officers as they try to deter her from standing on the sidewalk. The little girl, now perched atop the barricade, drops her mouth wide open as she watches twenty-seven protesters square off with the police. A mass of protesters crowds in from behind, chanting, “We won’t stop until we stop stop and frisk!” The paddy wagon pulls up. As the chanting continues, the twenty-seven protesters stand in line as, one by one, each is turned around, handcuffed, and escorted to and taken away in a wagon.
We reconvene on the corner. Some guy—possibly hired—agitates and is arrested. The police ask if we need accompaniment to wherever we are marching next. “No! You got to be kidding!” a woman replies. And did I hear a Community Affairs officer call “Mic Check”? I did! We march back the way we came.
“The sit-ins started in the early sixties down South at the lunch counters with about six people. The Freedom Rides that went down South to register people to vote started with less than fifteen people. But the actions of a few caught the imagination, the inspiration, and support of millions, and Jim Crow segregation and open discrimination, legal discrimination were done away with. And now, though they may tell us that blacks and Latinos are equal before the law, and Commissioner Ray Kelley might tell us that Stop and Frisk is not racial profiling, we have to ask Ray Kelley, “If you say it’s not racial profiling, what you been smokin’?” What we have done today is something very special. And our comrades who have gone to jail and put themselves on the line are our heroes. And we need to tell people that! People need to know that there’s a new generation of Freedom Riders who are not gonna tolerate 700,000 people being illegally, immorally, unconstitutionally stopped and frisked! Eighty-five percent black and Latino, 90 percent not even charged with anything! You tell me that this is not racial profiling! So what’s our stand today? We are going to stop Stop and Frisk! Mic Check! I’d like to ask, please raise your hand if you can go back to Occupy Wall Street and spread the word and announce what happened here today.”
All twenty-seven arrested protesters were charged with misdemeanors for obstructing government agency, finger printed and given violations for disorderly conduct. This is a far more serious response than previous arrests, which have either brought no charges or only a violation.