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March on Father's Day to save our children

GEORGE GRESHAM 1199SEIU President | 6/7/2012, 2:52 p.m.
This Father's Day, Sunday, June 17, will be unlike any other for me. Besides the...
George Gresham, President 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East

This Father's Day, Sunday, June 17, will be unlike any other for me. Besides the usual Father's Day activities, I'm going to spend the afternoon with thousands of New Yorkers and people of conscience from around the nation in a silent march from Harlem to the Manhattan home of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

I'll be marching alongside NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, National Action Network President the Rev. Al Sharpton, Children's Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman, New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) Director Donna Lieberman, Latino Justice President Juan Cartagena and a host of union, religious, civil and human rights leaders to put an end to the city's rampant, ineffective, unlawful and discriminatory stop-and-frisk program.

Since our coalition announced the march last month, justice activists, elected officials and the media in large numbers have raised their voices and joined the cause. The rightness of our cause was further demonstrated last month when U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin granted class action status to a lawsuit challenging the city's stop-and-frisk program.

The plaintiffs in the case, Floyd et al. vs. the City of New York, allege that they were stopped by police in the absence of legally necessary "reasonable suspicion" that they had committed a crime.

"Suspicionless stops should never occur," wrote Scheindlin, adding that the widespread practice of such stops "displays a deeply troubling apathy towards New Yorkers' most fundamental constitutional rights." She decried the NYPD's "policy of establishing performance standards and demanding increased levels of stops and frisks."

The judge's ruling confirmed what so many of us have contended: Stop-and-frisk is nothing more than an insidious form of racial profiling that violates the Fourth Amendment's unreasonable search and seizure clause and the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause.

In essence, rather than enforce our Constitution, the NYPD violates it. By doing so, it is supplanting necessary police work with practices more closely associated with a police state.

The NYCLU reported that in 2011, NYPD officers conducted 685,724 street stops, a more than 600 percent increase since 2002, Bloomberg's first year in office, when officers conducted 97,000 stops. NYPD statistics reveal more than 200,000 stops during the first three months of this year.

Nine out of 10 people stopped are totally innocent. Although the removal of firearms is the ostensible reason for the stops, no gun is retrieved in 99.9 percent of stops. In fact, the proportion of gun seizures has fallen dramatically since stop-and-frisk began.

The mayor and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly contend that the high number of stops have nothing to do with quotas, but instead use euphemisms such as "performance goals." Likewise, they say youths are stopped for "furtive movements," walking in "high crime areas" and displaying "bulges" in their clothing.

The mayor and commissioner say stop-and-frisk is responsible for the 29 percent reduction in violent crime from 2001-2010, but during the same period, without stop-and-frisk, violent crime fell 59 percent in Los Angeles, 56 percent in New Orleans, 49 percent in Dallas and 37 percent in Baltimore.

They further argue that stop-and-frisk is race neutral. However, the NYPD's own statistics tell a different story. Year after year, more than 85 percent of those stopped are Black or Latino. Though they account for just 4.7 percent of the city's population, Black and Latino males between the ages of 14 and 24 accounted for 41.6 percent of all stops last year. In fact, the number of young Black men stopped in 2011 was more than the entire city population of young Black men.

This is nothing more than the perpetuation of the cradle-to-prison pipeline that organizations like the Children's Defense Fund work so hard to dismantle. Stop-and-frisk harasses and humiliates our youth, and it makes us all less safe by undermining the trust of, and partnership with, the police, which is needed to oppose those who really do us harm.

We strongly support the NYCLU and those who are working to end this injustice through passage in our City Council of the Community Safety Act. We also call upon our U.S. Justice Department to take steps to address this blatant racial profiling.

On Father's Day, our steps will be guided by the sprits of all those who came before us for the sake of today's youth and all those will come after. Please join us. For information, visit www.silentmarchnyc.org.