Ilya Marritz covers business for WNYC.
Mouths Closed, Marchers Make a Statement on Police Tactics
Sunday, June 17, 2012 - 08:44 PM
No bullhorns. No chanting.
Instead, along upper Fifth Avenue on Sunday afternoon, the predominant sounds were birdsong and the shuffle of feet on pavement as thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets to protest the NYPD's practice of stop and frisk employing an unusual tactic: silence.
The march, which was organized by a coalition of groups including the National Action Network, the NAACP and labor unions, began at Fifth Avenue and 110th Street and continued south to Madison Avenue and 78th Street.
Oscar Sabillon, a doorman at an apartment building along the route, said he'd never seen anything like it.
"Usually you hear all this hootin', hollering, people waving flags, bands, and all that stuff," Sebillon said. "But I think it's still making a statement. You know, you don't need to make a lot of noise to make your point."
Some marchers brought simple home-made signs, others held up stylized portraits of young men killed by police bullets, whose names have become like talismans: Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo.
Many onlookers along Fifth Avenue's Museum Mile expressed support for the marchers. But one Upper East Sider watching the procession from in front of the Guggenheim Museum had a different view.
"I believe in 'Stop and Frisk,'" said the woman, who gave her name only as Helene. "Because I think people are full of arms. They have guns and everything. And I don't mean black or white or green or orange. Everybody."
As the march entered its second hour, people grew fatigued from keeping their mouths closed. After they passed 79th Street, where New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg lives, the crowd got chatty.
Andrew George, who is black and a senior at SUNY-Binghamton, said it felt good to see public acknowledgment of an experience that, to him, usually feels like private humiliation. He said he's been stopped and frisked several times.
"It's just stupid, cause you know you've done nothing wrong, they know you've done nothing wrong, and you can't even get mad, because the second you get mad, then you are making a problem," George said.
The marchers didn't have a permit, and there were many police officers on the streets. But there appeared to be no confrontations between the NYPD and the people protesting its tactics.
More than 600,000 people were stopped and frisked in New York last year, resulting in a relatively small number of arrests and summonses.
Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have defended 'Stop and Frisk' as critical to keeping crime rates low and guns off the streets.
But in a sign the policy could soon change, many of the likely candidates for Mayor showed up at the march: City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, City Comptroller John Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and former City Comptroller William Thompson, who was the Democrats' nominee in 2009.
"Back then, I said that 'Stop and Frisk' was being misused in the city of New York, and being abused," Thompson said. "And unfortunately now it's even worse than it was a few years ago."