Today, on Father's Day, Fifth Avenue in New York City will echo with the sound of silently marching feet. No shouted slogans. No protest songs. No rallying cries. Just long lines of people by the thousands—marching for justice in a righteous battle to end New York's Stop and Frisk policies.
Silence is sometimes louder than words.
Blacks, whites, latinos, asians, Native Americans, union members, youths, straight folks and LBGTs—all united in a powerful coalition to demand justice and an end to the racial profiling taking place on city sidewalks and streets. This is a coalition forged out of pain but fired by love.
Today people will bear witness to their belief in equality in a profound expression of common humanity.
Brotherhood and sisterhood.
It is fitting that it takes place on Father's Day, since so many of those affected are young men, some who may never be given the chance to be fathers. So it was in 1917:
The Silent Parade (or Silent Protest) was a march of between 8,000 and 10,000 African-Americans on July 28, 1917 in New York City. The purpose of the parade was to protest lynching and anti-black violence. The parade was precipitated by the East St. Louis Riots in May and July 1917, when between 40 and 250 blacks were killed by white mobs.
The Silent Parade was organized by W. E. B. Du Bois and the NAACP. They hoped to influence president Woodrow Wilson to carry through on his election promises to African-American voters to implement anti-lynching legislation, and promote black causes. Wilson did not do so, and repudiated his promises, and federal discrimination increased during Wilson's presidency.
The first parade of its kind in New York, and the second instance of blacks publicly demonstrating for civil rights. (The first was picketing against The Birth of a Nation.)
An editorial in The New York Age on Aug. 3, 1917, titled An Army With Banners, by James Weldon Johnson—author, civil rights activist, critic, journalist, and poet, who wrote the words to the beloved Negro National anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing"—described that first march in detail:
Last Saturday the silent protest parade came off, and it was a greater success than even the committee had dared to hope it would be. Some of the New York papers estimated the number of marchers in line as high as fifteen thousand. It was indeed a mighty host, an army with banners.Now, 95 years later, we march again, but this time it will no longer be only black folks silently holding up the mirror for us all to see injustice.
No written word can convey to those who did not see it the solemn impressiveness of the whole affair. The effect could be plainly seen on the faces of the thousands of spectators that crowded along the line of march. There were no jeers, no jests, not even were there indulgent smiles; the faces of the on-lookers betrayed emotions from sympathetic interest to absolute pain. Many persons of the opposite race were seen to brush a tear from their eyes. It seemed that many of these people were having brought home to them for the first time the terrible truths about race prejudice and oppression.
The power of the parade consisted in its being not a mere argument in words, but a demonstration to the sight. Here were thousands of orderly, well-behaved, clean, sober, earnest people marching in a quiet dignified manner, declaring to New York and to the country that their brothers and sisters, people just like them, had been massacred by scores in East St. Louis for no other offense than seeking to earn an honest living; that their brothers and sisters, people just like them, were “Jim-Crowed” and segregated and disfranchised and oppressed and lynched and burned alive in this the greatest republic in the world, the great leader in the fight for democracy and humanity.
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I was so proud when I saw the press conference held at the Stonewall Inn on June 5, 2012.
LGBT Groups Condemn Stop and Frisk at Stonewall Inn
Here are some selected quotes from that press conference for those of you who may not be able to view the video:
“Police violence has always been and continues to be an LGBTQ issue: in our 2011 report we found that transgender people, people of color and transgender people of color were 1.5 to 2 times more likely to experience police violence throughout the country,” said Sharon Stapel, Executive Director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project and Co-Chair of the LGBT Table of the Silent March Against Stop and Frisk and Racial Profiling. “Police profiling and targeting is institutionalized racism, homophobia and transphobia aimed at the people who don’t conform with rigid race, gender or sex roles and is unacceptable state-sanctioned violence and AVP is actively working on solutions to end profiling and targeting. For as long as we are policed because of who we are, how we look, or who we choose to have sex with, racial profiling and stop and frisk will be an LGBTQ issue.”
“I’m proud to stand with LGBT leaders in support of the Father’s Day March,” said New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. “Together we can send a message that more must be done to significantly reduce the number of unwarranted stops and to bridge the divide between the NYPD and the communities they serve.”
“The coming together of civil rights leaders and LGBT leaders on this issue is a historic union with broad social and political ramifications. If we fight for each others’ issues it broadens and strengthens each respective movement,” said Rev. Al Sharpton, President of National Action Network, a convener of the Silent March Against Stop and Frisk and Racial Profiling, and MSNBC host, who endorsed marriage equality in 2004.
“We are proud to stand with the LGBT community on this important issue. Stop and frisk is a concern for all communities in this City as the young men who are so often targeted are our sons, brothers, nephews — future fathers and community leaders. That’s why on Father’s Day, June 17th, 1199 SEIU will join with civil rights, faith, labor and community groups in a silent march to raise awareness on the city’s stop and frisk policy. We urge all New Yorkers concerned about the future of our children and safety in our communities to march with on Father’s day to take a stand against racial profiling,” said George Gresham, President of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, a convener of the Silent March Against Stop and Frisk and Racial Profiling.
“The reality is that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of color – including myself- are among those subjected to over 685,000 stops and frisks by the NYPD last year and we have been at the forefront of resistance to abusive policing long before Stonewall,” said Chris Bilal a survivor of stop and frisk and a Youth Leader from Streetwise and Safe, an organization focused on the policing of LGBTQ youth of color. “Sometimes our experiences are no different than the rest of our communities, and sometimes they are marked by homophobia and transphobia in addition to racism and policing of poverty.”
“As a transgender woman and a long time New Yorker, criminalizing a generation of young men in our city does not make me feel safe, not when the police confiscate 700 guns from 700,000 stops. It is time for the mayor and police to revisit the stop and frisk policy and replace it with common sense policing, based on real crime and not racial clichés,” said Melissa Sklarz, Director of New York Trans Rights Organization (NYTRO) and President of the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City.
I was equally proud to be at the seventh annual Netroots Nation conference in Providence, Rhode Island, where NAACP President Ben Jealous gave a keynote address at the closing plenary session and announced the march.
Racial profiling is on the rise in our country. New York City is not the only city in the U.S. using racial profiling and harsh stop-and-frisk-policies. However, it is currently the most prominent, and the statistics compiled by the ACLU are mindboggling.
An analysis by the NYCLU revealed that innocent New Yorkers have been subjected to police stops and street interrogations more than 4 million times since 2004, 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 reportsOne of the most interesting developments in the campaign to involve citizens in stopping the practice has been the development of the easy to use Stop-and-Frisk Watch App for smart phones:
“Stop and Frisk Watch” – a free and innovative smart phone application that will empower New Yorkers to monitor police activity and hold the NYPD accountable for unlawful stop-and-frisk encounters and other police misconduct.
Stop and Frisk Watch is available in English and Spanish, thanks to a translation by Make the Road New York. Initially available for Android phones, an iPhone version will be released later this summer. The app allows bystanders to fully document stop-and-frisk encounters and alert community members when a street stop is in progress.
There are many other ways you can get involved: support organizations who are fighting against these policies, urge groups you belong to to join us, post this information to your social networks, and tweet at #silentmarchnyc.
If you live in close proximity to New York City, join the march. As of June 15, 299 groups have endorsed the march, making this one of the most diverse coalitions I have seen in a long time.
If you have never been a target, and know no one who has, perhaps listening to the voices of those who have will encourage you to, as Ben Jealous put it, "stand up with them."
To better understand the human impact of this practice, we made this film about Tyquan Brehon, a young man who lives in one of the most heavily policed neighborhoods in Brooklyn.There are interviews on YouTube at #SilentMarchNYC like this one with Domingo Estevez.
By his count, before his 18th birthday, he had been unjustifiably stopped by the police more than 60 times. On several occasions, merely because he asked why he had been stopped, he was handcuffed, placed in a cell and detained for hours before being released without charges. These experiences were scarring; Mr. Brehon did whatever he could to avoid the police, often feeling as if he were a prisoner in his home.
His fear of the police also set back his education. At one high school he attended, he recoiled at the heavy presence of armed officers and school security agents. “I would do stuff that would get me suspended so I could be, like, completely away from the cops,” he recalled. He would arrive late, cut classes and refuse to wear the school uniform. Eventually, he was expelled.
Mr. Brehon’s life turned around when he transferred to Bushwick Community High School and joined Make the Road New York, a community organizing group that is part of Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of organizations. Because of his experiences, he now hopes to attend John Jay College of Criminal Justice and to become a lawyer, in part so he can help others who are subjected to racial profiling.
And lest you think that this only happens to young street youths, New York City police officers are also targets:
Lying on the ground in Harlem with handcuffs around his wrists, Eric Josey, 45, made sure not to scream. A cop had just thrown him down, but he remained silent. He had been driving his car on 130th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard when three plainclothes officers pulled him over, asked him to step out of the vehicle, discovered a legally owned gun on him, shoved him to the ground, and handcuffed him.It makes no difference if you are a kid with a hoodie, a man with a kufi or turban, or two young men or women holding hands. People of color and LGBTs are targets. So let's join together to target unjust laws. Though the march may be silent today, our collective voices taking action will speak volumes, and make change.
"I was outraged," Josey, who is black and lives in Harlem, tells the Voice while he recounts the confrontation, which happened last summer. "It was a potentially deadly incident."
For many men of color living in New York City, Josey's account will sound all too familiar as the city continues to pursue its stop-and-frisk program to astounding levels. But in another way, Josey's story is quite unique.
For 18 years, he was an NYPD officer.
We can do this.