The rally for police accountability held at Grand Army Plaza on Saturday was not far from where Councilman Jumanne Williams and Kirsten John Foy were arrested at the end of the West Indian American Day Carnival in September.
At the four-month anniversary, elected officials, and community activists and supporters gathered to keep a spotlight on issues related to police accountability. Emphasizing the symbolic value of the location, Council Member Letitia James was emphatic, “The police cannot police themselves!”
Since the September episode with police in Brooklyn, scores of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators have also been captured on film and video. An array of graphic images of demonstrators dragged and arrested were displayed at the rally, a backdrop for the speakers.
Like other public speak-outs on these issues, Williams emphasized this is not an anti-police rally. He expressed deep feeling for Officer Figoski killed in the line of duty in East N.Y. and Williams voiced concern about the policeman seriously injured Friday evening in Flatbush.
That being said, the rally was called to continue focus on aggressive policing tactics and a series of racist Facebook posts purportedly from NYPD officers.
“The problem must be acknowledged before it can be fixed,” Council Member Williams said. Hoping that they get the message and acknowledge the problem, he said, “If they cannot do that then they may not be the right leaders for the entirety of the city.”
Director Foy stated that there must be a relationship between the police and the community. “The Mayor and Commissioner refuse to acknowledge the problem exists…we do not want this to be adversarial,” he said, followed by leading the chant with the ralliers: No Justice, No Peace!
Police treatment was referenced as a “system of apartheid in N.Y.” Foy said, “Unless the 99 percent get justice, the 1 percent will not get peace. This is not fly-by-night…we aren’t going away.” Foy referenced the “fence around Zuccotti Park” (the barriers that now keep people out of the space occupied by Occupy Wall Street activists).“You cannot build a fence around a movement. It can’t be bound,” he said.
The chants and sensibilities of Occupy Wall Street were called upon during the rally; Williams led “We are the 99 percent!” Aaron Black from OWS spoke briefly, “We’re not going to tolerate it.”
Hakim Jefferies reminded the assembled of some of the young Black unarmed men killed by aggressive policing–Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond. “In a democracy, there must be a balance between effective law enforcement and a healthy respect for the civil-rights of innocent, law-abiding residents.
Assemblyman Nick Perry gave out pamphlets entitled “What should you do if stopped by the police…tips that may save you from a night in jail and could even save your life.”
Speaking from the heart, the crowd responded to Councilman Mathieu Eugene’s words, “Everyone should be treated fairly, not because of the color of their skin, their social class. These disruptions create distrust that affects the safety in the community.”
Others lending their support included East Harlem Council Member Melissa Mark-Diverito who was arrested with Councilman Williams on Nov.17 as part of an Occupy Wall Street protest, Assembly Member Rhoda Jacobs, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Iraq Vet, Sgt. Shamar Thomas, Occupy Wall Street activist, and members of Vocal-NY, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition and the New York Civil Liberties Union and New York Communities for Change.
At the end of the rally, supporters signed a New Year’s Resolution articulating the issues of discriminatory police practices and the need to acknowledge them, have a sit-down meeting with Black and Latino men and to work toward City Hall hearings on concerns of policing and civil rights.