|Standing Up to stop and frisk|
|Wednesday, January 30, 2013|
Story and photos by Toni-Ann Martin
Hundreds gathered at the Crystal Room in Taino Towers to protest the NYPD policy.
Sara Diallo, 30, and her boyfriend were asleep on the train when two police officers woke them up.
The homeless couple had nowhere to go and felt safer and warmer on the train.
They were forced to leave and the cops searched her boyfriend for drugs and weapons, she said.
His pockets were empty, but he was still arrested that night.
She begged them to take her instead as her boyfriend was scheduled to start a new job the next day, to no avail.
Diallo, a member of Picture the Homeless, shared her story with 200 guests at the “East Harlem Stand Up!” event on Thurs., Jan. 17th, when residents rallied at the Crystal Room in Taino Towers to protest the stop-and-frisk policy used by New York Police Department (NYPD) to search individuals they consider suspicious.
“Just because we’re homeless does not mean we are criminals,” Diallo said.
Guests shared similar stories of discrimination, harassment, and abuse to raise awareness of the impact of stop and frisk.
“Just because we’re homeless does not mean we are criminals,” said Sara Diallo, of Picture the Homeless.
New York City Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito represents East Harlem, the most stopped-and-frisked neighborhood in Manhattan.
According to the New York Civil Liberties Union’s analysis of NYPD stop-and-frisk data, the 23rd precinct, which covers the east side of 96th Street to 115th Street, had more than 17,000 stops.
East Harlem ranked number one in stop and frisk in Manhattan and sixth in New York City.
"I am a true believer in social justice and equality," said event organizer Councilmember Mark-Viverito. She made note of the small-time marijuana arrests that are prevalent in her district, and throughout the city, which cost millions.
There are more than 50,000 people being stopped and arrested each year when they should be receiving a violation instead, she said.
The Councilmember collaborated with the Bronx Defenders, Picture the Homeless, and the Justice Committee to organize the event as part of the Communities United for Police Reform campaign.
The groups represented spoke out against a policy they argue is discriminatory and targets people of color, the youth, and the homeless.
“The biggest form of institutional racial profiling is taking place right here in New York City,” said Comptroller John C. Liu, who also attended.
“[Stop and frisk] has to be ended,” said Comptroller John C. Liu.
Liu, a Flushing native, recalled having a similar seminar years ago on how to keep safe from the police.
“I’m sad that this kind of forum has to take place,” he said.
With nearly 700,000 people stopped and frisked in New York City last year, Comptroller Liu said the policy was unfair and placed an undue financial burden by depleting resources and costing more money as lawsuits and claims have skyrocketed.
“[This policy] doesn’t have to be mended. It has to be ended,” said Comptroller Liu.
Those present said they hope to remedy the situation by encouraging passage of the Community Safety Act, providing “Know Your Rights” training, and implementing “Cop Watch.”
The City Council is currently considering the Community Safety Act, which is intended to help end discriminatory policing and improve police accountability.
Members of the Bronx Defenders, which provides free legal representation to residents charged with crimes, explained the four bills of the Community Safety Act to the audience (see sidebar).
The Justice Committee’s South Bronx Organizer Riko Guzmán is confident the Act will pass in the City Council, but told attendees that no one thing helps bring about change.
“A lot of great civil rights people are from Harlem and they’ve talked about social reform,” said Chris Bilal.
He encouraged them to participate in Cop Watch, the legal practice of observing and documenting police activity, and to attend Know Your Rights training events.
“Armed with cameras, we point and shoot,” Guzmán said.
Residents, he urged, should pay attention to people that are stopped by the police, take photos, and record police officers during an arrest, or an assault.
Many present were actively involved in helping the same men and women who are often stopped and frisked.
Mark Leonida, the Director of Measurement and Outcomes at Getting Out and Staying Out, works with former incarcerated young men.
“A lot of our guys are on probation or parole and can easily violate it for not having ID at the time of being stopped,” he said.
The Justice Committee, a Latino organization formed against abusive policing, provides formal Cop Watch training as well.
The Know Your Rights training on Feb.12th is another open event designed to let people know when their rights are being violated.
Ryan Gibbs, Chairman of the Board of Directors at Picture the Homeless, invoked the power in numbers.
Calling the NYPD “the biggest gang” in the city, Gibbs said getting community members from all boroughs involved in the movement would make the difference.
“A lot of our guys are on probation or parole,” said Mark Leonida.
“The problem they’re facing [here], it’s not just a one-borough problem. It’s a city-wide one, and we’re trying to rectify that,” he said.
Jesús “Papoleto” Meléndez, also in attendance, recited a poem about police corruption and social injustice.
Addressing the police, he said, “If you all think you’re Supermen, unity is kryptonite.”
The Community Safety Act, which is being considered for passage by the New York City Council, explained in four parts: