By VERENA DOBNIK
Saturday, June 16, 2012
NEW YORK — Prominent civil rights leaders joined protesters at a Harlem rally Saturday to voice objections to a police practice that has led to hundreds of thousands of innocent people being stopped and searched by officers.
The Rev. Al Sharpton joined about 200 people inside his New York City headquarters a day ahead of a planned Father’s Day march against the New York Police Department’s “stop-and-frisk” program.
“If it were your child, Mayor Bloomberg, Commissioner Kelly, it would be one child too many,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said at Sharpton’s National Action Network.
Critics say the NYPD’s practice of stopping, questioning and searching people deemed suspicious is illegal and humiliating to thousands of law-abiding blacks and Hispanics. The NYPD last year stopped more than 630,000 people, mostly black and Hispanic men. About half were frisked, and only about 10 percent were arrested.
“We don’t need to be criminalized while we fight crime,” Sharpton said.
A federal judge in May ruled that there was “overwhelming evidence” that the practice has led to thousands of illegal stops. The judge granted class-action status to a lawsuit challenging the practice.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly defend the policy, saying the stop-and-frisk program keeps guns off New York streets and helps reduce crime.
The fathers of two youths killed during confrontations that have become civil rights causes also attended Saturday’s rally. Tracey Martin, whose unarmed teenage son, Trayvon Martin, was fatally shot in Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer, said: “It’s hard to imagine tomorrow without him.”
Also in Harlem was Franclot Graham, whose teenage son, Ramarley Graham, was shot and killed after police chased him into his New York home. A New York police officer has been charged with manslaughter in the death.
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said his 6-year-old daughter keeps asking him, “Why are you leaving?” each time news breaks of a young person who is shot or humiliated.
“Let us take back Father’s Day for all our children,” Jealous told the rally.
Sunday’s protest is billed as a “silent march” starting at 3 p.m. on Fifth Avenue and 110th Street and moving downtown to Bloomberg’s town house at East 79th Street.