Protesting Police Tactic, in Silence

Jun 13, 2012

New York Times

A fleet of portable toilets has been booked, and they will be docked along 110th Street, at the north end of Central Park, where people will be mustering on Sunday afternoon. So far, at least 35 buses are expected. The subways will most likely carry the bulk of the crowd. A group of religious leaders from all five boroughs plan to meet on Wednesday to discuss the logistics of bringing their congregations. Training will be provided Thursday night for marshals who could not make a session that was held on Tuesday.
“Order and safety is the rule of the day,” said Kyle Bragg, of Local 32BJ, a building workers union, who is organizing the training. “The marshals will be there to help make sure we can offer our message in an orderly, peaceful way.”
All this preparation is for a mass march that does not have a permit, and as a practical matter, probably won’t need it: a Father’s Day parade down Fifth Avenue to 79th Street, protesting the stop, question and frisk practices of the Police Department. “It is true that we will not have a piece of paper,” Leslie Cagan, a chief organizer, said. “Our conversations with the police have been quite friendly, civil and cordial. We expect that to continue through the day.”
For several years, the discussion of stop-and-frisk, outside the neighborhoods where it is heavily practiced, has been in salon settings, with pundits arguing about it, and civil liberties lawyers gathering statistics, and the mayor digging in, dismissing criticism of it. Sunday’s event marks its transformation into a central political issue.
“I’ll speak of myself and 1199,” said George Gresham, who represents workers in hospitals and nursing homes as the president of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union.
“There’s no way that we could endorse anyone for mayor that doesn’t believe this stop-and-frisk is a failed policy as we know it. It must end.”
For the first time, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said on Monday that his administration would be scaling back the number of stops. In 2011, the police recorded making stops of 685,000 people, a vast majority of them black and Latino young men, and more than 96 percent of them released without a charge. As the number of stops steadily increased under Mr. Bloomberg, fewer of them yielded evidence of wrongdoing.
At a news conference on Monday about high school graduation rates, Mr. Bloomberg was asked about the number of stops, and, as was reported in The New York Post, he said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly “expects it to go down significantly.” On Sunday, Mr. Bloomberg, Mr. Kelly and the schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, the highest-ranking black official in City Hall, went before a black congregation in Queens. Mr. Bloomberg said that people were entitled to be treated with courtesy during stops, and said that additional training would ease friction. Mr. Walcott said that he was stopped near his home, and that he appreciated the police’s diligence; he was not pleased, he said, by the tone of the conversation.
However, the practice is not simply short on good manners. Last month, a federal judge said that the city’s own records showed that many of the stops did not meet the constitutional standards for searches. The law does not permit a search of pockets based simply on a police officer’s hunch or performance quota; an officer may pat someone down if there is reason to believe that a person is carrying an illegal weapon. To conduct a search of the pockets, or to order someone to empty their pockets, requires yet a higher standard involving probable cause that a weapon is present. The judge found that officers often relied on impermissibly vague grounds such as “furtive” movements.
Sunday’s march will be entirely silent, Mr. Gresham said, an idea that originated with Benjamin Todd Jealous, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., who invoked a 1917 demonstration.
On Tuesday afternoon, the mayor held a meeting at Gracie Mansion with Mr. Gresham and others involved in the march, including the Rev. Al Sharpton.
The two sides laid out their positions on the stops, Mr. Sharpton said. “They said they thought it brought down crime,” he said. “We said, we don’t want to cuddle criminals, but we don’t want to criminalize good kids. If you’re born white in the city, you’re a citizen. If you’re born black or Latino, you’re a suspect. They understood the tension.”
Ms. Cagan, an old hand at staging demonstrations in the city, would not guess what the size of crowd will be. But asked if the marchers would stay on the sidewalk, she laughed. “We won’t fit,” she said. “We will be in the street.”
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