Two photographers stood side by side on the platform at 5th Ave and 110th, chatting as the Father's Day anti-police brutality march rounded the bend. "Will there be an Occupy contingent?" one asked. "I wonder how they'll handle a silent march."
"Oh, they won't be silent," said his peer, adding, "and hey, of all the marches that go down 5th Avenue, why is this one silent?"
Throughout the Father's Day March to End Stop and Frisk, one and all – from the Muslims for NYPD Accountability, to the Japanese American Citizen's League, to Occupy Wall Street Meditation Working Group -- remained silent, but the outrage was palpable. Since Mayor Bloomberg's first year in office, the rate of NYPD street stops has increased more than 600 percent; over 4 million people have been stopped by police. Although black and Latino males between the ages of 14-24 account for 4.7% of the overall population, they account for 41.6% of the stops in 2011. In fact, the number of stops of young black men exceeded the entire city population of young black men.
So many African Americans are "incarcerated, or under parole, in some way in the judicial system," commented Minister Annie Allen of Occupy Faith, "that this has taken away our youth! This has devastated our communities." Allen, who was Chair of the Rainbow Coalition in her New Jersey community throughout the 1980s, teaches community development and organizing to pastors at Drew Theological School. "There's a lot of power in silence, and in self-control. It's a strategy that says we can focus our anger, and most of all that we're not going to succumb to the anger we feel, but will channel it in a productive way. We need all sorts of approaches, silent and loud. Sometimes you march with chants and have your voices heard that way. Here, the size of the march itself speaks volumes."
Allen's two sons, 24 and 26, were both born on Mother's Day. "My sons grew up in a mostly middle class community, and even then, I had to teach them that they had to watch it – they had to watch the police, and know how to act accordingly. My sons are college-educated. Just going out for a beer was something different for them when they were in college. It's a terrible burden for a mother to worry about her children in that way, and to have to teach her children how to protect themselves in that way."
Kimber Heinz, of the Global Justice Working Group and the War Resister's League, reflected, "We see the policing that's happening in the U.S. as an extension of the militarization of policing globally. So the anti-war movement is not only about looking abroad, but about being accountable to communities locally. Police here and abroad are using some of the same weapons the military forces use: riot-gear, tear-gas, and 'non-lethal weapons' that are actually quite dangerous, to quell protest, but also while policing every day on the streets."
Heinz, who is also with the Anti-Racism Allies Working Group of OWS, explained, "As early as January, we identified Stop-and-Frisk as something to organize around, and something that makes an important connection: the mass incarceration of people of color is the mass incarceration of people who are then unable to join those movements because they are in prison. This makes the connection between suppression of protest and everyday policing, even more clear."
Silent, Until the Permit Expires...Then It's "Silence!"
Throughout the course of the permitted march, organized by a coalition of groups including the NAACP, SEIU, and the Reverend Al Sharpton's National Action Network, the Occupy Wall Street activists scattered throughout, stayed the course, and remained silent. For two hours, a colorful stream walked silently all the way down 5th Avenue. From the quiet of the Harlem Meer, past throngs of tourists at the Metropolitan Museum, tens of thousands spoke in low tones to their allies.
At march's end, just past Mayor Michael Bloomberg's house at 79th Street, Al Sharpton and the NAACP wrapped up the afternoon with some final words and a few photos, and dispersed onto Madison Avenue. But as soon as the permit had expired, the first chants began. "Stop, stop the violence! We will not be silenced!" Rather than scattering promptly at 5:00, the tail-end marked the march's finale with, "Stop and frisk has got to go! We say no to the new Jim Crow!"
Minutes later, the blue shirted community affairs police moved out, and the black-shirts and white-shirts moved in; at least three people were picked off the sidewalk and arrested. Then the orange netting came out. So did the belligerent commands of one burly officer, hustling a 5-foot tall white-haired elderly woman and about thirty youth, down 77th Street towards Madison Avenue. The white haired woman turned out to be Dot Peters, the mother of occupier Atiq Zabinski.
"MOVE DOWN THE SIDEWALK! Keep moving keep moving keep moving!" Peters seemed bewildered as she plodded along, the orange net pursuing her from less than a foot away. "I've been around a long while but I've never seen anything like this. I didn't see anyone provoke anything, it was such a nice peaceful march, really, if the police weren't here, nothing would happen."
One woman from Malik Melodies Sisterhood sidled up to a female officer as she walked down Madison Avenue: "I'm from a third world country, and the police where I am from don't even treat us this way," she explained in a sisterly tone. "They don't do what you're doing, telling us to go this way, then that way, on the sidewalk and off the sidewalk, not letting us either stand, or walk." She walked elbow to elbow with the police officer, unafraid, strident. The officer did not move away, or move to arrest her like the three people that had been picked off in similar situations a half hour earlier; the officer seemed to feel almost cornered, embarrassed.
A middle-aged female police officer with short cropped hair shouted desperately, from deep in her belly, "I want to go home! I want to be done with work!" as she unfurled the orange net, gutterside. When she reached Madison Avenue, she put her hand on the shoulder of a National Lawyers Guild legal observer, about her same age, and said, "Well you, know, if you weren't discriminating against police...."