Revolution #257, January 29, 2012

Keeping Up the Heat in the Fight to STOP "Stop & Frisk"

Revolution received the following correspondence:

Dear Readers of Revolution newspaper,

Happy New Year! The campaign to STOP "Stop & Frisk" is heading into the New Year strong, continuing its efforts to stop this outrageous policy. In New York, the Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy, what police sergeants call "owning the streets," means that police routinely stop people, mostly Black and Latino youth, for things like "furtive motion" (walking in a way that some cop says means you just committed or are about to commit a crime), wearing certain clothes, where you live, or (the second most common reason) "other." In 2010 the NYPD stopped 600,000 people, 85% of them Black or Latino, 93% of them were not even accused of violating any laws when they were stopped. Official figures for 2011 haven't been released yet, but they were on pace to stop more than 700,000 people! A black elected official reported being told by NYPD police commissioner Ray Kelly that he wanted every Black and Latino youth to feel like he's going to be stopped and frisked every time he leaves his house in the morning. Stop-and-frisk is part of the pipeline leading youth straight into the system of mass incarceration, which has more than 2.3 million people behind bars, and it must be stopped.

Back in October the campaign to STOP "Stop & Frisk" hit the ground; with the aim of unleashing determined mass resistance against the NYPD's policy of stop-and-frisk as part of taking the fight against mass incarceration to a higher level. It may be cold outside, but we've been keeping up the heat on this. And a busy January has seen the fight against stop-and-frisk taken into courtrooms where those arrested in civil disobedience actions declare to the court that fighting injustice is no crime; holding press conferences and rallies and marches; and making plans for more direct action. A couple of us who are part of building the movement for revolution, and have been actively part of this effort, want to share some of what's been up over the past couple of weeks.

On a Thursday, January 12, over 500 gathered at Abyssinian Baptist Church to hear Michelle Alexander speak on the occasion of the paperback release of her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The crowd was mostly Black people, ranging in age from high school, through college students, and all the way up to veterans of the 1960s. It was also mainly of middle class folks, including church members, and people who are active around mass incarceration. Many seemed to have familiarity with her work, and others (mainly the younger people) seemed to have been drawn out in part by the work she has done. The campaign to STOP "Stop & Frisk" put something of a stamp on the evening—100 STOP "Stop & Frisk" buttons were distributed that night and most people put them on right away.

During the question and answer period, following three women from a Brooklyn high school who nervously announced that they were trying to organize at their school to take these issues on, and asked her for advice, someone from the campaign to STOP "Stop & Frisk" announced the events planned for January including a march to follow immediately after that night's event, and asked Alexander about the relation between education and resistance. She responded that "advocacy" is one of the most important forms of education, and that people must not wait until everyone is educated before they begin advocacy. Her analogy: You can't wait to educate everyone before chaining yourself to lunch counters, and that act is a way people get educated.

Afterward, about 30 people including a dozen students met at the event gathered outside the church and marched to a nearby police precinct. The neighborhood was somewhere that the movement for revolution has influence, and also not far from where the first civil disobedience action to STOP "Stop & Frisk" was held back in October. In recent weeks revolutionaries, as well as people around the campaign to STOP "Stop & Frisk," have connected with people in the neighborhood who have come under attack by the police. The march was called to stand with those people and to call out the police on what they do.

We created a scene with a large banner that reads STOP "STOP + FRISK," and gathered people to march through the neighborhood. During the march you could see glimmers of hope emanating from the people as they yelled from their windows and chanted with us. Youth at the corner store stepped out and raised their fists and chanted. We marched to the police station, where people used the people's mic to tell the story of the youth who had been harassed and arrested there and speak bitterness about the role of the police. Visibly emotional, a middle-aged Black lawyer who has worked with the campaign to STOP "Stop & Frisk" and grew up in Harlem, described what it's like to live, grow up, and raise kids in the kind of society she had just heard Michelle Alexander describe so vividly, and expressed how she saw the STOP "Stop & Frisk" movement as the beginning of the end of mass incarceration.


On January 16, the National Action Network (NAN) hosted A Day of Remembrance in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., which focused on preventing gun violence by Black youth. Two hundred people turned out, overwhelmingly Black and consisting of NAN members, church folks, middle class professionals, and other movement people. Once again the stamp of STOP "Stop & Frisk" was made on the crowd with the iconic STOP "Stop & Frisk" button being taken by more than half the crowd and many more getting into the hands of people outside the event.

The program featured an array of local politicians, media personalities, and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Reverend Al Sharpton, the leader of NAN, spoke about gun violence and brought up a youth group that "puts their lives on the line to end gun violence by finding where youth are gathering at night and shouting people out as drug dealers and criminals, telling them to get off the corners and out of the parks." (For an important discussion on the question of violence among the people, see the Revolution article "The Plague of Violence Among the People—And the Real Solution," July 31, 2011.) Sharpton then introduced Mayor Bloomberg to the sound of jeers and boos from the crowd. Sharpton had to intervene saying, "I have differences with Bloomberg, but I am willing to work with anyone addressing gun violence." Bloomberg talked about how crime has gone down, implicitly defending and affirming current police practices in the face of the challenges that came from on and off the stage throughout the day. (Earlier in the event, a Manhattan elected official had criticized stop-and-frisk.) As Bloomberg concluded, people from the STOP "Stop & Frisk" campaign began shouting "Stop criminalizing our youth, STOP 'Stop & Frisk!'" For this we were asked to leave for "disrespecting an invited guest."

After being asked to leave, we mixed it up outside with people from the neighborhood. Many shared their own stories of encounters with the police and signed up to be in touch with the STOP "Stop & Frisk" campaign, with some wanting to know more about being involved with the movement for revolution which does work in that area. A few youth were very excited to hear about this fight against stop-and-frisk. One Black youth took fliers that had an image of a pig on it and went up to nearby police and told them, "Hey look! You're on a flier! No? It looks just like you." People thanked us for being there, expressing gratitude for standing out in the cold, and saying what we said. Over the afternoon, the buttons began to appear more and more around the block: young people wearing them on backwards caps, older people wearing them on jackets.

However, reception was not uniform, and there were some things we ran into worth mentioning.

An older Black woman, who was looking at the STOP "Stop & Frisk" banner, came up to a Latino revolutionary who was distributing STOP "Stop & Frisk" material, and asked, "Don't you think the problem is the kids and the way they dress like criminals... We didn't dress like that in my day, young men wore nice slacks," all while staring at his jeans and sneakers. She interrupted his answer to her, saying "Don't raise your voice at me," and walked away. Footsteps away, she glared over at him with disgust, throat full of phlegm and venom, and shouted, ''Thug! You're just a thug!"

Another interesting example comes from a young girl who is involved in the NAN youth organization mentioned earlier, that condemns gun violence by finding where youth are gathering at night and shouting people out as drug dealers and criminals. Her father recognized the STOP "Stop & Frisk" campaign because he had been in jail when people involved in it had done civil disobedience in Queens, New York, and had been held in jail overnight in November. He approached us—expressing gratitude for the way we conducted ourselves in the NAN meeting and introduced us to his daughter. She had also been following the STOP "Stop & Frisk" movement and got buttons and gave her contact information so we could be in touch.

There is something to reflect on here: This young girl seemed caught between the rock of crime in the 'hood, which is a real problem, and the hard place of pigs unleashed as part of criminalizing the youth. We were a little caught off guard by this; someone who is part of a group that views the youth as the problem—but who at the same time views us and our role in going up against the system and the way it comes down on youth as something to be respected. There's complexity and layers of reality to wrestle with here.

We hope to be developing ongoing correspondence which can help contribute to bringing out, and struggle through, the challenges involved in building a real fight against mass incarceration and stop-and-frisk, and coming at it all as part of building a movement for revolution.


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