Protesters, many from Harlem and Washington Heights, gathered in Union Square yesterday afternoon to demonstrate against police brutality and stop-and-frisk tactics. The October 22 Coalition, which organized the rally, planned events in cities across the country for a national day of protest against “the criminalization of a generation.” Similar protests were scheduled in Austin, Texas; Santa Barbara, Calif. and Seattle.
The crowd carried placards ranging from the humorous “BAD COP = NO DONUT” to the more direct “F–k the Police,” along with flags and paintings of sons and brothers shot by the police. Police estimated the turnout at 80, but The Uptowner counted at least 120 people.
Stop-and-frisk incidents reached a record 680,000 in 2011, up from 97,000 in 2002, though they’re likely to decline this year, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. It also found that, from 2002 to 2011, blacks and Latinos represented close to 90 percent of people stopped.
In Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood, police made 80,151 stops, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union, representing roughly 1 in 9 people stopped in New York City last year.
Noche Diaz, 24, from Harlem, is facing trial next week and a possible four-and-a-half year prison term, he said, for obstruction and resisting arrest at stop-and-frisk protests. He believes he was singled out and arrested five times so the police could show “a pattern of disobedience.”
Police brutality is “commonplace” and “always in the background” for teens uptown, said Diaz. “I speak to a lot of 14- and 15-year-olds. They feel that unless you’re a white person in society, you are going to be targeted.”
Diaz said that in high school, he and his friends constantly received tickets and summonses for loitering and felt “herded around like animals” by the police.
Steve Kohut, a representative of Cop Watch, which works to end police-related injustice, described police brutality as “a huge issue” and the “number one concern for people in Washington Heights.”
“For people of color, low-income workers and undocumented people, when you can’t go to work or school without being harassed, it feels like our worst enemy is the NYPD,” said Kohut, who works with Cop Watch in Washington Heights.
Residents are reeling from two fatal police shootings in the past two months, Kohut said. A police bullet killed Reynaldo Cuevas last month when he fled his uncle’s bodega in the Bronx as it was being robbed by gunmen. In early October, Noel Polanco was shot and killed by an NYPD police officer during a traffic stop in Queens.
“It’s something that goes on everyday,” said Kohut, who remembers being stopped three times on the same day.
“Police had three guns pointed at me and made me strip to my boxers in February,” Kohut said, adding that he is now afraid to tell his 12-year-old son to go to the police if he’s in danger.
“I’m more scared of a police officer than a guy in a hoodie,” he said.
However, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has steadfastly supported stop-and-frisk.
“I think there should be outcry that 96 percent of the shooting victims in this city are black or Latino,” Kelly said at a Police Athletic League event in Harlem in July. Community political leaders, he charged, are “shockingly silent when it comes to the level of violence right in their own communities. Many of them will speak out about stop-and-frisk, but who will speak out about the elephant in the corner, which is the inordinate level of violence that exists in many of these communities?”
A teary Margarita Rosario, whose 18-year-old son Anthony was shot to death by police detectives in the Bronx in 1995, said, “I wish I had taken the bullets for him.” One of several parents who told the crowd about losing children in police shootings, Rosario added that her nephew, Hilton Vega, 21, was also shot to death by police.
Anthony Rosario was shot 14 times, news reports said, and Vega 7 or 8 times. The young men were armed, but witnesses and police officials disagreed over who instigated the shooting. The two detectives who opened fire were not convicted for the shooting, but the city settled a $1.1 million wrongful-death civil suit brought by the Rosario and Vega families in 2009, reported The New York Daily News.
Rosario said she was speaking at the event to help end the violence and give her son a voice.
Juanita Young lost her son, Malcolm Ferguson, 23, when he was shot by police in the South Bronx in 2000. She received a $4.4 million wrongful-death settlement in 2007, reported the New York Times. She said she couldn’t fathom the idea that she would outlive her son. “We are burying our kids,” Young said.
Thirty police officers were at the scene, but they reported no arrests.