New York City teacher Jamel Mims faces up to a year in prison for nonviolently protesting the most controversial racial profiling policy in America today. Last year, he was one of the key members of a civil disobedience campaign to stop Stop-and-Frisk that boasted the iconic academic Cornel West as one of its leading advocates. This week, he stands on trial along with three other campaigners.
As The Nation has reported in an excellent mini-documentary, the NYPD policy involves 1,800 instances of stopping and frisking citizens every day; in the last decade, 87% of people who are stopped are black or Latino; and about 9 of 10 are innocent of any wrongdoing. There is not even a hint of exaggeration in saying that certain sections of New York City have been turned into a police state for minority youth.
If you watch the video, you will find that NYPD captains have literally encouraged officers to violate citizen rights, and that officers who want to be promoted are expected to fulfill a de facto quota of randomly harassing and frisking young men in certain precincts, which often ends in humiliation and police brutality.
In response to this policy, the Stop Mass Incarceration Network has organized direct action protests, and initiated a campaign to 'Blow the Whistle' on Stop and-Frisk, distributing tens of thousands of whistles to youth across New York City, encouraging citizens to signal to their community when NYPD officers act aggressively.
Local demonstrations have played a critical role in attracting national attention to the issue, and scrutiny has escalated rapidly. Legal observers of Mims's trial told me that the city's prosecutors have been using disproportionately harsh charges in an attempt to intimidate and discourage future protesters.
Trying to lock up those who peacefully speak out against such a clearly unjust policy is backwards on its face. Since the city is trying to stifle him, here is what Mims has to say:
Enter Jamel Mims:
Beginning Tuesday October 23, I will be on trial along with Carl Dix, who, with Cornel West, initiated the 2011 campaign of nonviolent protest to stop Stop-and-Frisk. We are facing up to a year in jail for non-violent protest at the NYPD 103rd precinct in Jamaica, Queens last year.
The stakes are undoubtedly high: this is the second stop-and-frisk protest mass trial resulting from the culminating action of the civil disobedience campaign that sparked citywide resistance to the policy. The Queens District Attorney added a serious misdemeanor charge on us last month, and re-wrote our charges last week so that we're charged with 'acting in concert' rather than as individuals.
The action last November was the third such protest at New York City precincts with the most stop-and-frisks, this one taking place in the borough of Queens. We held a community rally and march through Jamaica, Queens, which ended at the 103rd Precinct. As our march arrived at the precinct, it was completely barricaded on all sides -- on lock-down in anticipation of the protest. After just minutes of chanting and singing outside of the precinct steps, 20 of us were arrested, quite quickly, but held for hours late into the next day. For less than ten minutes of protesting stop-and-frisk outside of the doors 103rd precinct, which houses the NYPD officers who put fifty shots into Sean Bell, three co-defendants and I now find ourselves facing up to a year of jail time.
If anyone think this is just an empty threat, and they won't convict or send us to jail, let me reiterate -- the DA has twice bumped up the charges in the last month, and has made it very clear that the prosecutorial apparatus intends to place us behind bars. A year ago, those who had no first-hand experience of the humiliation of being illegally searched barely knew the practice occurred. Those who got stopped and frisked thought there was nothing one could do about it. Now, the stop-and-frisk policy and the horrors it inflicts are going viral in mainstream society. Copwatch and videos of NYPD stops garner thousands of views, and nearly every day there are articles or opinion pieces about stop-and-frisk. Potential mayoral candidates have even had to confront this, as politicians line up to claim their opposition to the policy, or express their desire to reform or modify it in the ongoing pursuit of public opinion.
In this watershed moment, when stop-and-frisk is opening a window into the daily plight of thousands, the very people who put their bodies on the line to put this issue into the spotlight and openly call out for its abolition are vigorously prosecuted and threatened with incarceration. I refuse to accept this. It's unthinkable that the Queens District Attorney, who couldn't make a case against the cops who murdered Sean Bell, is now throwing the book at nonviolent civil disobedience protesters. In this light, the intended effect of this prosecution is insidiously transparent: to send a chilling effect through the movement against mass incarceration, and dampen the spirit of resistance it has ignited. To put it quite simply: don't speak up, and certainly don't fight back.
Well, I'm speaking up. And not just as someone who is passionate about the issue. I speak as a target of police abuse, as a Fulbright Scholar whose scholarship was almost denied after being assaulted by Boston police while trying to leave a party. I speak to you as an artist and teacher whose work in New York City public schools has me witness the humiliation and degradation of the youth by the NYPD on a daily basis. I speak to you as a committed opponent of the New Jim Crow, a system of mass incarceration that has 2.4 million mostly black and Latino men warehoused in prisons across the nation, with stop-and-frisk as a major pipeline into that system.
Most of all, I speak to you as someone who has cast their lot with those at the bottom of society: with those thousands of youth who are brutalized, targeted, harassed, and shuffled off behind bars -- and is now facing years in prison for standing with them.
We fully intend to stop this railroading by bringing the political battle into the courtroom and putting Stop and Frisk on trial. If we are allowed to be convicted and jailed without a massive fight, then the battle against stop-and-frisk and the spirit of resistance it has engendered will be seriously dampened. On the other hand, if people stand with us in this legal battle -- if we meet and defeat their attempts to silence and punish us -- then the movement will gain further initiative and pull many more people into the struggle against mass incarceration.
This week, I am calling on you to stand with us. The fate of this policy and those thousands of youth crushed underfoot is bound up within this case, and cases like these. Join us at court in Queens and pack the courtroom, call in the DA's office and demand they drop the charges -- speak up and fight back.
Follow Zeeshan Aleem on Twitter: www.twitter.com/zeeshanaleem