On the afternoon of Oct. 22, in Union Square Park in Manhattan, a spirited crowd of activists, students, and concerned citizens joined the families of victims of police brutality as part of a National Day of Protest. Organized by the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation in conjunction with many other organizations, this was the 17th year that thousands of people in more than 50 cities across the country held rallies, marches, and other events to bring attention to what they describe as a “national epidemic of official brutality.”
The protest began with a teach-in. Jenn Rochelle and Noor Ahmad of CUNY CLEAR provided information about a person’s rights when interacting with the police, while Aidge from the Peoples’ Justice Coalition gave an introduction to Copwatch. Jeremy de Nieva and Yves Nibungco of Anakbayan spoke, too, about Cybercrime.
Following the teach-in, bereaved family members told of how their loved ones lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement. Among the speakers were:
•Frank Graham and Constance Malcolm, parents of Ramarley Graham, an 18-year-old unarmed Black man who was murdered last February in his home by Officer Richard Haste in front of Graham’s grandmother and six-year-old son.
•Nicole Cuevas, sister of Reynaldo Cuevas, a 20-year-old Bronx bodega employee who, after being held hostage by an armed robber, was shot and killed last month by police as he tried to leave the store.
•Two sisters of Shantel Davis, a 23-year-old unarmed Black woman who was shot at close range and killed in June by Detective Philip Atkins. Atkins is referred to by community members as “Bad Boy Atkins” for intimidating residents and using excessive force. He has already cost the City $224,000 to settle just four of the six cases against him.
An important focal point of the day was the NYPD’s despicable stop & frisk policy. This issue was addressed by Carl Dix, spokesperson for the Revolutionary Communist Party who, together with Cornel West, initiated the movement to Stop “Stop-&-Frisk” and End Mass Incarceration. Among other things, they have led a series of non-violent civil disobedience protests at police precincts throughout the city. As a consequence of their courageous actions, Carl Dix and three other freedom fighters are now on trial in Queens, facing more than two years in jail for a Nov. 19, 2011 protest.
“Our community faces an emergency situation,” Dix said. “Law enforcement treats whole generations of Black and Latino youth like criminals: guilty until proven innocent – if they can survive to prove their innocence. This approach is concentrated in policies like stop and frisk, under which almost 2,000 people, most of them Black or Latino and almost all of them doing absolutely nothing wrong, are subjected to harassment, disrespect, brutality and worse. Police routinely commit brutality and even murder and almost always get away with no punishment for these crimes.”
Dix went on to state that it is crucial to meet these assaults with heightened mass political resistance. “The racial profiling, the police brutality and murder, the warehousing of people in prison, the discrimination against formerly incarcerated people – all this must be met by people standing up and fighting back,” he declared. “We need to build on the existing resistance and take it to a whole new level.”
Other speakers included Ralph Poynter, veteran activist and life partner of Atty. Lynne Stewart; Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee member Meli; Chelsea Johnson-Long from Safe OUTside the System; and Kathie from the October 22nd Coalition. Interspersed were performances by the Peace Poets, Mahina Movement, Ngoma, Spiritchild, and Majesty.
As day faded into evening, the protesters took their message to the streets. Many carried large posters with simple but effective drawings of individuals killed by law enforcement. Others held signs stating, “My Skin Color Is Not a Crime.” Many more marched behind banners bearing such messages as “Stop & Frisk Doesn’t Stop Crime. Stop & Frisk Is a Crime,” “Silence Is Violence: Speak Out,” and “We Will Not Rest in Peace.”
The protest concluded with a community speak-out at 5th St. and Ave. D in the Lower East Side.