The Queens District Attorney in New York City thinks that he is prosecuting four people for civil disobedience in front of a police station. The Queens District Attorney is very wrong. While four men's acts of civil disobedience may technically be on trial what is really on trial is New York City's demeaning, racist and unconstitutional Stop & Frisk policy.
Approximately one year ago New York City teacher and activist Jamel Mins, organizer Carl Dix, Robert Parson and Morgan Rhodewalt sat down in front of one of the police stations responsible for some of the highest rates of Stop & Frisk actions in the city. They made quite a stir; it ended with the four of them and a number of others arrested. The District Attorney, deciding to be an asshole, threw the book at them, thereby turning the case into a cause celebre. The trial is underway now -- you can read a blog about the trial at StopMassIncarceration.org.
Beginning Tuesday October 23, I will be on trial along with Carl Dix, who, with Cornel West, initiated the 2011 campaign of nonviolent protest to stop Stop-and-Frisk... For less than ten minutes of protesting stop-and-frisk outside of the doors 103rd precinct, which houses the NYPD officers who put fifty shots into Sean Bell, three co-defendants and I now find ourselves facing up to a year of jail time... the DA has twice bumped up the charges in the last month, and has made it very clear that the prosecutorial apparatus intends to place us behind bars.This is the unfortunate price these men may have to pay to have called attention to this reprehensible policy, but at least their message is getting through. The struggle against Stop & Frisk is growing daily as Jamel notes.
A year ago... those who got stopped and frisked thought there was nothing one could do about it. Now, the stop-and-frisk policy and the horrors it inflicts are going viral in mainstream society. Copwatch and videos of NYPD stops garner thousands of views, and nearly every day there are articles or opinion pieces about stop-and-frisk. Potential mayoral candidates have even had to confront this, as politicians line up to claim their opposition to the policy, or express their desire to reform or modify it in the ongoing pursuit of public opinion.
What is Stop & Frisk ?
The stop-and-frisk program of New York City is a practice of the New York City Police Department to stop, question and, if the circumstances of the stop warrant it, conduct a frisk of the person stopped. About 684,000 people were stopped in 2011. New York residents have questioned whether these stops are based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. According to NYPD statistics, over 80% of those stopped have been completely innocent. The vast majority of these people were African-American or Latino.To the NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, it's a way of getting guns off the street. To almost all white people, it's something that never happens. To your random cop, it's the way to show who the real boss is on the streets on an otherwise boring day. But to the people it happens to, it's a demeaning and potentially physically dangerous process. Not to mention the threat of being unjustly caught up in the criminal injustice system (C.f. The New Jim Crow, by Michele Alexander). Or of being shot dead in the back "trying to escape."
Stop & Frisk effectively gives the police the right to stop anyone, anywhere and search them, completely disregarding the Fourth Amendment. Why? Because they can always come up with some "reason" to justify a stop and then a search. Target wears baggy pants? Stop 'em. Looks nervous? Must be up to something. Frisk 'em! Looks calm and cool? Must be a drug dealer. Stop 'em! Has a twitch? Frisk 'em!
Of course if they really did stop everyone, everywhere, people would quickly be up in arms. Instead, they search lower class people and almost always people of color in the full knowledge that nobody who's anybody gave a FF that they are doing so. Until recently.
Not only is Stop & Frisk now on trial in a Queens courthouse, it is being judged all across New York City and the nation.
Stop & Frisk is on trial in the Press.
A number of other New York papers have also been documenting the abuses of this policy as well, and even those who rail against those who want it stopped are bringing the issue to the fore.
Stop & Frisk is on trial in Federal Court.
The policy is now being challenged by a Federal lawsuit, Floyd v New York City, brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al. is a federal class action lawsuit filed against the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the City of New York that challenges the NYPD's practices of racial profiling and unconstitutional stop-and frisks. These NYPD practices have led to a dramatic increase in the number of suspicion-less stop-and-frisks per year in the city, with the majority of stops in communities of color.The Federal District court trial is scheduled to start in March, 2013.
Another lawsuit, Ligon v City of New York is contesting New York's Operation Clean Halls program, which allows police to Stop & Frisk people in private apartment complexes (and no, I'm not making this up).
Even a Bronx District Attorney became so disillusioned with the policy that she questioned whether it made sense to prosecute cases arising from this policy.
Jeannette Rucker, a veteran prosecutor, recounted that her office began to have questions about many of the Police Department's trespassing arrests in the past several years. She said Bronx judges "just started dismissing these cases left and right" because they believed that the officers had no legitimate legal reason for approaching the people who had been arrested -- sometimes merely because they had been seen entering or leaving a Clean Halls building.This case has already begun in federal District Court, where, on October 15th, 2012, Judge Scheindlin heard a motion for a preliminary injunction designed to halt such practices immediately.
"Stops on the street can be a humiliating experience," he said. "But here it's even more than that. We're talking about people who are walking in and out of their own homes. These stops are an assault on the sanctity of one's own home."
Stop & Frisk is on trial in the New York City Council
Despite massive opposition from Mayor Bloomberg and the Police Commissioner, the New York City Council took up the issue of Stop & Frisk two weeks ago.
After more than a decade of complaints, the New York Police Department's practice of stopping and frisking people on the streets has suddenly moved to the forefront as a combustible political issue.The City Council is considering legislation dubbed the Community Safety Act which would attempt to protect people against discriminatory profiling, attempt to protect people against unlawful searches, and hold police accountable to the people they stopped.
City Council members thundered at a hearing that the "stop and frisk" tactic is discriminatory and ineffective. Mayoral hopefuls have clamored to call for change. A politically powerful union has said it won't support a candidate who doesn't criticize stop and frisks, which officers conducted nearly 700,000 times last year.
This last week, City Council members traveled to the nether reaches of the City to hear testimony from the public regarding Stop & Frisk. at three different town halls. Here's an account of one of the meetings from the Stop & Frisk trial blog, reminding us of why Mims and his fellow protesters were willing to risk jail time to fight this.
"Person after person 15 year old to a 73 year old told about being stopped, humiliated and frisked. Others told of being brutalized. Some people in the audience were crying when a petite African-American woman spoke about being stopped as she walked into her house. She and her family members were savagely beaten with members of her family suffering a broken leg and jaw. She kept wailing to the Council members, "What are you going to do about this?" 15 year old young women told of being groped and fondled. The stories were vivid, heartbreaking but anger provoking and enraging.Here is a sampling of what the public had to say, taken from live tweets by the New York Civil Liberties Union as the town hall meetings progressed.
NYCLU @nycluThree former NYPD officers also testified. Speaking of the reality that exists within NYPD, versus the picture painted of police procedures by higher-ups, Howard Henderson said
Bx defenders atty sharing his story of being stopped by officers for no reason BC he is a young black male
Ccr staffer talks abt having an officer pull a gun on him and the helplessness of being a young black man in nyc
A member of 'picture the homeless' said: I lost my job and my home because of the nypd abuses.
Hs student, 15 years old: I was stopped & frisked while playing football in park & officer told us we we R young, out of control & colored.
I'd like the nypd to show me id when I am randomly stopped instead of the other way around: member of vocal Ny
Jumaane: any time you hear of a young person getting shot by the police you can bet your next paycheck that person was black or latino
The mayor says obesity is a problem but we have to stay inside because we're treated like criminals in the streets
"Parents are afraid for our children. Not because someone is going to hurt them but because we fear the police" Pastor Johnson
Donavan Williams "tonight I shed my title, I shed my degree, because as a black man in NY my degrees dont matter. I still get stopped"
2h NYCLU @nyclu
Howard Henderson, retired NYPD: "There is profiling and there are quotas, if you never heard it, you heard it now."
Howard Henderson, speaking truth to power
Which pretty much sums it up.
Stop & Frisk is on Trial Across the Country
Explicit Stop & Frisk policies may be confined to New York City and a few other big urban areas like Philadephia. But the stopping of young men of color on the streets for no reason, ubiquitous "driving while black" pullovers and other indignities I can only imagine are standard practice across these United States.
In Oakland, California a young man is dead as the ultimate result of a de facto Stop & Frisk policy by the Oakland Police Department. The Justice 4 Alan Blueford Coalition, created in part to prevent further such killings, is calling for and end to Stop & Frisk-- de facto and de jure -- as one of its demands. It has issued a statement of solidarity with Jamel Mims and his comrades.
JUSTICE 4 ALAN BLUEFORD COALITION CALLS FOR
DISMISSAL OF CHARGES AGAINST NYC STOP & FRISK PROTESTERS
The Justice 4 Alan Blueford Coalition (http://justice4alanblueford.org/)
stands in solidarity with Jamel Mins, Carl Dix, Robert Parsons, Morgan
Rhodewalt and their eight companions, standing trial in New York City
on trumped-up charges brought by the Queens County District Attorney,
Richard Brown, for peacefully protesting the unconstitutional Stop &
Frisk policies of the New York Police Department.
Alan Blueford, an 18-year old black student, was murdered as the
consequence of an illegal stop & frisk in Oakland, California on May
6th, 2012. Recognizing this, the Coalition has made the elimination of
stop & frisk -- a de facto policy of the Oakland Police Department --
one of its five demands in seeking justice for Alan Blueford.
Countless youth and men of color have been harassed and their lives
put in jeopardy by this police tactic designed to intimidate an entire
generation. The Justice 4 Alan Blueford Coalition salutes all those in
New York City who have taken up the battle against Stop & Frisk. We
here in Oakland are watching as events unfold in New York City: every
march and every press conference, developments in each trial and
lawsuit, and your struggle to legislatively end Stop & Frisk by
enacting the Community Safety Act.
We call on everyone from coast to coast and in between to demand that
District Attorney Richard Brown drop all charges a against these
peaceful protesters, and we also ask everyone to sign the Stop Mass
Incarceration petition calling for dismissal of all charges at
Sentence First -- Verdict Afterwards.
The question is whether the American public is willing to sentence it.
Stop & Frisk is guilty. (ref.).
Carl Dix, one of the four on trial, sent out reflections in email last night.
Here are excerpts from that message:
Sisters and Brothers,
Sitting in the court in Queens listening to the prosecution and the judge talk about this trial isn't about Stop-and-Frisk but about whether Jamel, Morgan, Bob and I 'broke the law,' took me back to the 1960's and the struggle to end Jim Crow segregation. The whites only facilities, Black people having to ride on the back of the bus or sit in the balcony in movie theaters and the lynch mob terror the enforced all this. Our fight to Stop "Stop-and-Frisk" stands on the shoulders of that legacy. The prosecutors are the current day version of the people who put 1960's freedom fighters in jail, and worse.
The trial is recessed till Monday, and we have a chance to make the fact that 4 people who protested that racist, immoral policy are facing time in prison a major story in NYC and beyond. On Monday, the prosecution will put on its major witness and show the video of the protest at the 103rd precinct. On Tuesday, the defendants will testify. In strategizing over how to involve people in the trial, we should remember the impact the civil disobedience campaign to Stop "Stop-and-Frisk" had last year. Think about the youth who face harassment, disrespect and worse by police. Those youth drew hope and inspiration from what we did. Our protests made people who are never stopped and frisked aware of what others faced. And many of them were horrified to learn that people faced this because of the color of their skin. The authorities want to crush all this by making us pay a heavy price for standing up to Stop-and-Frisk. On the other hand, if we win this legal battle, it will give the movement to end that policy greater momentum.
The trial continues Monday, October 29.
Queens Criminal Court
125-01 Queens Blvd Kew Garden NY 11415