I should double back to what I’ve been told was an amazing silent march yesterday against the New York City Police Department’s stop and frisk policy. Several thousand took part. And perhaps fittingly, it ended with some police overreach.
Two and a half hours after it began, the peaceful, disciplined march ended in mild disarray. As many marchers dispersed, police officers at 77th Street and Fifth Avenue began pushing a crowd that defied orders to leave the intersection, shoving some to the ground and forcing the protesters to a sidewalk, where they were corralled behind metal barricades. After protesters pushed back, the officers used an orange net to clear the sidewalk, and appeared to arrest at least three people.
At least we can be happy that the pepper spray didn’t come out. Marvelous restraint.
However, the real story of the march was the presence of most of New York City’s political establishment, now lining up against stop and frisk, in contrast to their previous positions in some cases.
The presence of several elected officials at the march, including the Democratic mayoral hopefuls Bill de Blasio, the public advocate; Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker; Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president; and William C. Thompson, the former city comptroller, seemed to signal a solidifying opposition to the policy, which has long been opposed by civil rights groups.
Four mayoral candidates, pretty much everyone who has a shot to succeed Michael Bloomberg next year, marched in solidarity against racist policies that dehumanize young people of color. Even Bloomberg, who has strongly supported stop and frisk, has started walking back his support recently.
Stop and frisk is not just a question of racial profiling. When you stop hundreds of thousands of people every day, some of them are bound to get caught up in the criminal justice system, whether by resisting the practice or through minor drug possession. This kicks off the criminal justice nightmare that leads to a permanent underclass, unable to access the benefits of society, and generally put on a treadmill from parole to jail and back again.
What I personally appreciated was the variety of coalition members at the march:
Demonstrators mostly adhered to the organizers’ call to march in silence, hushing talkers along the route. Members of labor unions and the N.A.A.C.P. appeared to predominate, but there were also student groups, Occupy Wall Street, Common Cause, the Universal Zulu Nation and the Answer Coalition. A group of Quakers carried a banner criticizing the stop-and-frisk practice; other signs read, “Skin Color Is Not Reasonable Suspicion” and “Stop & Frisk: The New Jim Crow.”
As of Friday, 299 organizations had endorsed the march, including unions, religious groups and Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Arab, and Jewish groups. The turnout reflected the growing alliance between civil rights groups and gay and lesbian activists, who in past years have often kept each other at arm’s length. Last month, the board of the N.A.A.C.P., which includes several church leaders, voted to endorse same-sex marriage. The roster of support for the march on Sunday included at least 28 gay, lesbian and transgender groups.
That means something. And if this kind of solidarity can be extended across all policies, there is a chance for using the grassroots lever to promote change. That’s what movements can do.
UPDATE: David Cole has much more in The Nation, including an update on two lawsuits that may put an end to stop and frisk on their own.