NAACP Protests New York's Controversial 'Stop and Frisk' Policy

Reverend Al Sharpton served as one of the march's key speakers.

Thousands of silent marchers made their way down New York City’s Fifth Avenue this weekend in protest of the NYPD’s controversial ‘stop-and-frisk’ policy.  With nearly 700,000 stops in the year 2011, the police procedure has resulted in more stops of Black men last year than there are Black men living in the five boroughs.  Stop-and-frisk has been rallied against for months now and in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting and Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s insensitivity for the rights of men of color living in his city, a coalition of civil rights groups, labor unions, LGBT groups, and concerned citizens marched from 110th street in Harlem down to Mayor Bloomberg’s house to say enough is enough.

Elected officials came out in support including Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), the Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer, the City Council speaker Christine C. Quinn, former Bloomberg challenger William C. Thompson, and Democratic mayoral hopeful and public advocate Bill de Blasio.  Other high profile figures included the Reverend Al Sharpton, Benjamin Crump the attorney for Trayvon Martin’s family, NAACP President Ben Jealous, Katrina vanden Heuvel-editor and publisher of The Nation Magazine, president of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten, comedian and activist Dick Gregory, and Marian Wright Edleman of the Children’s Defense Fund.

A mostly silent march that went the distance of about 30 blocks, with stops each block or so for photos and media segments, created a slow moving pace that made the march peaceful and methodical.  With the occasional bystander asking loudly what the march was about, unaware that it was a silent procession, the peaceful protest went off mostly without a hitch.  Once marchers reached the mayor’s residence a few miles downtown without much direction the silent march became a bit chaotic as marchers were dispersed by police.

Mayor Bloomberg has said that the stop-and-frisk policy reduces crime by removing guns from the streets.  The numbers provided by the New York Civil Liberties Union breaking down the details of the stops in 2011 do not support this claim and this theme was ever present in the signs held by marchers.  Stop-and-frisk was compared to the Jim Crow south the comparison being that the constitutional rights of citizens are being violated as they are stopped and searched simply because of the color of their skin.  With 85% of stops being men of color it’s become clear over time that the policy is problematic and there is certainly increased momentum to make change and stop what is viewed by marchers as an unacceptable form of racial profiling.

NAACP President Ben Jealous has said of the policy, “Stop-and-frisk is a political tool, victimizing one group of people so another group feels protected.  It’s humiliating hundreds of thousands of people.”  “In this city of so much hustle and bustle and clamor, sometimes the loudest thing you can do is move together in silence,” Jealous said after the march.  The peaceful protest was silent, the message was loud and clear and hopefully Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Ray Kelly are listening.