After two hours of marching, the crowd was tired of being quiet. Beginning at 3 p.m. Sunday, the diverse group of activists silently trudged nearly 30 blocks down 5th avenue, solemnly protesting the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy. Nearly 40,000 people came to the protest in solidarity with Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell and other victims of allegedly racist policing practices, according to Derek Turner, a NAACP spokesperson.
Around 5 p.m., the protestors reached 79th street, the planned ending place for the march due to its proximity to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s home. Pin-adorned, sign-touting demonstrators began to restlessly pack into the street and sidewalks surrounding the area. No longer pleased with the stubborn quietness of the event, a few anxious protestors began to chant; they were barely audible in such a large crowd. Eventually, two men took over with the assistance of the microphone yelling, “We can’t be silent. We’ve got to fight back. The killer cuffs us. We’ve got to fight back.”
The remaining crowd joined in, demanding an end to the “new Jim Crow” and insulting the “racist cops.” As one officer passed through the crowd, a young girl directed her chants at the cop. He simply shook his head and muttered “dumbass” as he emerged from the throng of people. Otherwise, the police officers remain stone-faced as they watched from the periphery.
A half-an-hour later, the officers began to urge the protestors away from the streets onto the sidewalks. Tensions rose quickly and eventually a scuffle broke out between a young women and a few officers. She was quickly dragged away from the scene as the other marchers screamed angrily, calling the officers “wife beaters” and chanting “shame” at the top of their lungs.
The police eventually pushed the belligerent crowd onto the sidewalk, but a young woman identifying herself as Christina Gonzales emerged, demanding to see her sister, perceivably the other young woman who had been taken away minutes before. The other marchers backed Ms. Gonzales, and it appeared as if the group pressed forward, attempting the escape the police barricade and reenter the streets. Ms. Gonzales was then carried by three officers into a police van. One other woman was also detained.
According to the Huffington Post, nine people were arrested.
The protestors were incredulous. To many, the arrests were confirming their allegations of police brutality and racism.
Despite the arrests, many attendees were stilled pleased with the outcome of the march. Brandon Cuicchi, a member of Queer Rising, said the protest was “fantastic.” “There was a lot of solidarity from a lot of different groups,” he said. Nearly 300 groups participated in the march, including members from Occupy Wall Street and the N.A.A.C.P.
Rita Kamani-Renedo, a member of the New York Collective of Radical Educators, is an 11th and 12th grade teacher who attended the rally to support her students, many of whom are stopped-and-frisked daily on their way to school.
“It creates an environment where they feel that their lives and their bodies aren’t valued at all,” she said, noting that the policy unnecessarily puts some students on a life-long track to incarceration.
Constancia Romilly, a retired member of the New York State Nurse’s Association, said the policy is an “emotional assault against our community.” As a nurse, she said she has seen the negative long-term psychological impacts of the stop-and-frisk policy.
Others who attended the march had first hand experience with stop-and-frisk. Dinah Admes’ son was a victim of Operation Clean Halls, which allows the NYPD to patrol apartment buildings in high-crime areas. He is now involved in the NYCLU lawsuit against the city to end the policy.
The protestors claimed the NYPD was racially profiling stop-and-frisk victims. Some touted signs proclaiming, “You can’t have capitalism without racism” or “Down with racism and bigotry.” One man wore a striped prison suit and a sign that read, “How Bloomberg and Kelly see blacks and latinos.”
The policy is “criminalizing entire communities,” said Amanda Alexander, a member of the Bronx Defenders.
Even those with family members in the NYPD marched against the policy. Tami Claytor, whose father, uncles and cousin all served on the force, said she is not against the policy but is “tired of injustice.”
The organizers of the march included Rev. Al Sharpton, N.A.A.C.P. President Benjamin Todd Jealous and George Gresham, the president of Local 1199 of the Services Employees International Union. The silent march was modeled after a 1917 NYC protest that followed race riots in East St. Louis, Illinois.
“When tens of thousands of people march and are silent, the focus is on the people. We wanted to make sure that the solemnness, the seriousness of the occasion, came through,” Mr. Jealous told the Times.
Despite calls for reform, Major Bloomberg has maintained that the policy helps reduce crime in the area. At the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn Sunday morning, he continued to tout the benefits of stop-and-frisk, though admitting that the program and the relationship between the community and the police could be improved.
“It makes us feel inferior. It makes us feel subjugated,” said Annam Choudhry, a Muslim youth who attended the protest. “It makes us feel less free.”