Marching for Reform This Father's Day
In the late 1990s, while seeking justice for the families of four young Black and Latino men fired upon 11 times by the NJ State Police, we coined the term 'racial profiling.' Validated by stats released by State officials themselves, racial profiling pointed at the systematic culture of NJ police in ethnically targeting blacks and other minority drivers. We marched, went to jail and pushed for anti-racial profiling laws to be placed on the books -- and they soon were. Other states then followed NJ's path and re-examined their own policing practices. Today, in the city of NY, we are facing another troubling form of biased profiling and searches known as 'stop-and-frisk.' Only difference is, this time, you can be targeted for simply walking down the street.
On June 17th, Father's Day, National Action Network (NAN) will be joined by the NAACP, the SEIU and 115 other organizations in a historic march down 5th Avenue in Manhattan as we demand an end to 'stop-and-frisk.' Bringing attention to the continued pattern by the NYPD of routinely stopping and searching people of color -- especially young black and Latino men (often times without probable cause) -- we call on Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to implement reform at once. Creating databases of folks that have been 'stopped and frisked,' the NYPD has criminalized an entire generation of racial minorities in this city.
In 2011 alone, the NYPD stopped 685,724 people, out of which nearly 87 percent were black or Latino. That is no small coincidence; it's racial profiling in its most basic and blatant form. And contrary to the department's insistence that these tactics somehow prevent crime, out of the hundreds of thousands stopped, 88 percent were found to be innocent according to the NYCLU. Those are some staggering and sobering figures. When a majority of those targeted by police are young men of color and when the bulk of them are innocent, what else are we to conclude other than the fact that the NYPD has been implementing a policy of racial profiling and discrimination?
If true crime prevention were the goal, then perhaps police would work with community organizers and leaders who strive daily to better their neighborhoods. Perhaps officers would actually live in the areas that they patrol. And perhaps community policing would be allowed in black and brown communities. If you do not know us, if you cannot tell the difference between a true criminal and someone you believe 'appears' as a troublemaker, then you are in no way qualified, nor justified to deliver your brand of 'law enforcement.'
We most certainly have to address the issue of crime prevention in NY and in cities around the nation. But profiling, criminalizing and creating further distrust between police and the community is by no means the answer. It is up to us to save ourselves. And while we push to garner more resources for activists and leaders, we simultaneously condemn practices like 'stop-and-frisk.' WNYC recently released its own analysis of these policies and found some additional disconcerting facts: last year, there were some 120,000 stops of black and Latino children (mostly boys) between the ages of 14 and 18 -- nearly the equivalent total number of black and Latino boys in this city. So before a young teenager even graduates high school, it's almost a guarantee that he will be stopped and frisked by NY's finest. Simply outrageous.
While society has progressed in many ways, it is unfortunate that today we fear those sworn to serve and protect us. We worry that our children will be harassed on their way to school, coming home from a basketball game, riding the train, going to the corner store or even simply standing outside of their home. Young people of color are on edge; continuously fearful that they will be searched next, or that an officer will demand proof of ID and innocence whenever they desire, despite the circumstances. It is akin to living under apartheid South Africa. It is a national embarrassment.
Be sure to join us on Father's Day, June 17th as we let our collective voices chant for an immediate end to 'stop-and-frisk.' It's racial profiling in its truest and most modern form, and this policy must -- and will -- see its last days. Please visit NationActionNetwork.net for more info.
To the youth of NY, it is your future at stake. See you on Father's Day.
Follow Rev. Al Sharpton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheRevAl