Occupy Harlem: Protesters Demand an End to "Stop and Frisk"

Hundreds of protesters rallied at the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building in Harlem New York yesterday before marching to the NYPD's 28th Precinct, where dozens were arrested after blocking the entrance to the building in an act of non-violent civil disobedience.  Among those arrested were Professor Cornel West, Carl Davis of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and Rev. Stephen Phelps from Riverside Church.  The protesters demonstrated in opposition to the "stop and frisk" practices of New York City police.  In their remarks at the rally, Davis described the scope of the campaign, indicating that this protest was "only the beginning," while West placed the protest in the context of historical struggles for civil rights, and the Rev. Phelps elaborated on its spiritual and religious dimensions.  However, perhaps the the most powerful speech was delivered by John Hector, who described his own experiences being stopped and frisked by the NYPD.  Here's Mr. Hector's speech (video from the Daily News), amplified by the "human mic":

The New York Civil Liberties Union has reported that "3 million innocent New Yorkers were subjected to police stops and street interrogations from 2004 through 2010, and that black and Latino communities continue to be the overwhelming target of these tactics. Nearly nine out of 10 stopped-and-frisked New Yorkers have been completely innocent, according to the NYPD’s own reports."

The use and abuse of "stop and frisk" – sometimes known as a Terry Stop after a landmark Supreme Court case – has skyrocketed in New York City over the last seven years.  According to the NYPD's reports, as relayed by the NYCLU, in 2004 just over 300,000 New Yorkers were stopped and/or frisked by police, 89% of whom were innocent, i.e. neither arrested nor issued a summons of any kind.  In 2006, just over 500,000 New Yorkers were stopped by police, 90% of whom were not arrested or given a ticket.  In 2010, over 600,000 New Yorkers were stopped by the police, 88% of whom were innocent. 

This year, the NYPD is on track to "stop and frisk" over 700,000 people in New York.  It should be added that many people are stopped and frisked multiple times over the course of a year, so these statistics may significantly underestimate the number of stops and frisks that are performed by police.  

The majority of those who are subject to routine abuse of stop and frisk authorities are black and latino (around 50% and 30%, respectively).  Only around 10% of those who are stopped and frisked in any given year are white.  The practice of stop and frisk by the NYPD is clearly biased and discriminatory. 

Moreover, it is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and its routine character makes it a grave threat to the rights and liberties of all Americans.

Under Terry Stop authorities, search and seizure are permissible on the basis of reasonable suspicion, which is a lower threshold than probable cause.  But what is the character of the "reasonable person" implied by the NYPD's practices?  The NYPD and Mayor Michael Bloomberg would have us believe that a reasonable person's suspicions would prove to be completely unfounded 90% of the time!  Moreover, they would also have us believe that a reasonable person's suspicions would be racially biased and discriminatory. 

This is not reasonable by any standard.  If anything, it is paranoid, hysterical and racist, and it is indicative of the systemic violation of fundamental rights and liberties in the United States today.  Apologists of these police state tactics say they are necessary to curb crime and maintain social order.  Critics within the city's political establishment, such as Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer say they are inexpedient.  Such crass utilitarian arguments against the practice should be considered an obscenity, perhaps even more so than those put forward by its supporters.  The routine and systematic abuse of constitutional rights and liberties has no place in a free society, expediency be damned.

Here are some video clips I shot over the course of the demonstration:

Update: Protests continued today.  From CBS:
Dozens of “Occupy Wall Street” protesters marched in support of an annual protest against police violence Saturday.  The 16th National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality was bigger than it has been in years past, according to its co-founder Carl Dix.

“Look, when we talk about the police brutality and repression, the people that comes down on primarily are part of the 99 percent, so we see it as a companion issue,” he told WCBS 880′s Monica Miller.

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