New Freedom Riders Take on NYPD

Here in New York, people of good conscience are horrified by the practices of the NYPD that systematically target young African Americans and Latinos. Now, a courageous interracial group of activists is working to take on the NYPD’s racist practices (h/t @CarlaMurphy for this story).

Union Sq subway @ 1am
Creative Commons License photo credit: droolcup

In a recent piece at The American Prospect, Carla Murphy describes the burgeoning movement like this:

This February marks the first wave of trials for a loose-knit group of activists who have been arrested after responding to a call put out last fall by Princeton professor Cornel West and his longtime friend Carl Dix, a national spokesperson for the Revolutionary Communist Party. Inspired by the nonviolent civil disobedience campaign of the Freedom Rides to draw attention to segregated interstate bus travel during the 1960s, West and Dix’s Stop Stop-and-Frisk campaign seeks to raise awareness of what they say is a racist policy that targets and criminalizes black and Latino men.

“We’re always hearing about post-racial America, but if you look at the criminal-justice system, you know that race is still with us,” says Derek Catsam, history professor at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin and author of Freedom’s Main Line: The Journey of Reconciliation and the Freedom Rides.

It’s long past time for a coalition of activists to work on changing the stop-and-frisk policies of the NYPD.

The stop-and-frisk policies are notoriously racist in their implementation, if not their design. According to the NYCLU, only 10 percent of stops led to arrests, or even tickets. The overwhelming majority of New Yorkers stopped and frisked by the NYPD were engaged in no criminal wrongdoing.

Of those stopped in a given year, approximately 55 percent of the stops were of black people – more than double their percentage of the population – and 30 percent were of Latinos. Stops of whites amounted to only 2.6 percent of the stops.

Returning to Murphy’s piece, she raises the question of whether these protests will bring about actual change in the NYPD policy. But for onlookers along the march’s route through the South Bronx, though, public demonstrations on this issue matter a great deal—and so does the participation of whites. She writes:

Besides the kumbaya imagery of many races working together for racial justice and modeling the Freedom Riders’ integration ideal, there is a practical and strategic element to expanding the stop-and-frisk protesting ranks to whites.  Alicia Harrington, a 24-year-old African American Bronx resident, helps to plan Stop Stop and Frisk civil-disobedience demonstrations but has three months left on probation and worries about an arrest for protesting.

“A lot of young black and Latinos have prior convictions or are on parole, and it intimidates them from acting,” Dix says, admitting that the population most targeted by stop-and-frisk is also the least able to demonstrate against police brutality.

But, “as a white man,” says 29-year-old social worker Nick Malinowski, “I have the privilege of being able to get arrested for civil disobedience when other people might not.” Malinowski, who the last six months has organized five stop-and-frisk demonstrations in every borough except Staten Island, has one arrest for protesting.

I agree with Murphy that it’s not clear whether these protests will bring about real change.  But, the fact that they’re happening at all is very good news for social justice.



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