Thousands gathered this past Sunday along with a host of LGBT, labor, civil rights and community activists nearing 300 to march down New York's 5th Avenue in a historic, silent march against New York City’s ‘stop and frisk’ policy.
More than 60 LGBT organizations, including GLAAD, were also among the thousands of supporters who marched alongside the NAACP, Human Rights Campaign, LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent, Streetwise and Safe (SAS), 1199 SEIU and Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
Stop and Frisk, a policy which claims to keep neighborhood’s "safe" has resulted in over 685,000 “stop and frisks" and is slated to reach 800,000 before the year's end. Black and Latino males constitute the vast majority of the stops, which the National Civil Liberties Union found to be 87% in 2011. Most of these interactions with the police do not end in arrest or gun confiscation--actually 0.5% of the stops in 2011 resulted in gun confiscation and 93% did not end in arrest. “We have a profiling issue that must be resolved,” says Manhattan Borough President, Scott Stringer. This profiling issue is detrimental to people of color, especially youth who are being wrongly criminalized on the streets of New York and in their own neighborhoods while simply walking through the streets and avenues of New York.
While some officers and government officials, like Bloomberg, back the policy—the larger issue of how this affects all communities of color is undeniable and must not continue to go unnoticed. Mayor Michael Bloomberg believes the law should be “mended—not ended.” But, the community is asking for more—especially when there is an overall lack of sensitivity to communities of color. Media images and coverage have historically conveyed derogatory and violent portrayals of communities of color. Rev. Al Sharpton of National Action Network and one of the major organizers spent the morning in churches, alongside supporters and marching through the streets to continually express the racism that is both overt and latent in the "stop and frisk" policy.
Chris Bilal, campaign staff at SAS and GLAAD spokesperson, shared his story about how he was affected by the policy as a gay, black, male in New York. These issues are affecting communities of color, but as community activism and alliances continue to grow, the collective effort will call an for end to racial profiling.
LGBT communiites of color are 1) discriminated against based on race and 2) they must endure additional discrimination by police becuase they are transgender or gay. At SAS, Chris empowers LGBT youth of color to “know their rights” and maximize their safety in a system that can have devastating effects of marginalization. Chris has been a three-time “stop and frisk” victim himself and understands the detriment first-hand, committing himself to changing the tide. Chris says, "Sometimes I’m targeted as a drug dealer, sometimes as someone interfering with the quality of life, sometimes as a gay African-American man in a place I don’t belong."
The safety of LGBT youth has become a growing problem due to the police violence LGBT people of color experience. The discrimination continues to boil over and with policies like 'stop and frisk' in place, LGBT communities of color will continually be left at the periphery as well--but these are things Chris wants to change.
“A city where LGBT people are afraid to carry condoms for fear that they will be used as evidence that they were engaged in prostitution is not a safe city. A city where lesbians are slammed up against cars, groped and threatened with sexual assault to turn them straight is not a safe city. A city where women of color are sexually harassed by cops during stops is not a safe city. And a city where transgender women can’t walk down the street without being profiled as being engaged in prostitution or without being harassed for having an id with the “wrong” gender on it is not a safe city.” – Chris Bilal
Sunday’s silent protest was symbolic of communities coming together to end systematic oppression and racism—and the fight for equality and discrimination did not end at the intersection of 79th Street and 5th Avenue—it will continue.