On Tuesday, October 23, I will be on trial along with Carl Dix, who, with Cornel West, initiated the campaign of nonviolent protest to stop Stop-and-Frisk. We are facing up to two years in jail for non-violent protest at the NYPD 103rd precinct in Jamaica, Queens last year.
The stakes are undoubtedly high: this is the second stop-and-frisk protest mass trial resulting from the culminating action of the civil disobedience campaign that sparked citywide resistance to the policy. The Queens District Attorney added a serious misdemeanor charge on us last month, and re-wrote our charges last week so that we’re charged with ‘acting in concert’ rather than as individuals. For less than ten minutes of protesting stop-and-frisk outside of the doors 103rd precinct, which houses the NYPD officers who put fifty shots into Sean Bell, I and 12 co-defendants find ourselves facing two years of jail time.
If anyone think this is just “business as usual” and they won’t convict or send us to jail, let me reiterate—the DA has twice bumped up the charges, and has made it very clear that the prosecutorial apparatus intends to place us behind bars.
A year ago, those who had no first-hand experience of the humiliation of being illegally searched barely knew the practice occurred. Those who got stopped and frisked thought there was nothing anyone could do about it. Now, the stop-and-frisk policy and the horrors it inflicts are going viral in mainstream society. Copwatch and videos of NYPD stops garner thousands of views, and nearly every day there are articles or opinion pieces about stop-and-frisk. Potential mayoral candidates have even had to confront this, as politicians line up to claim their opposition to the policy, or express their desire to reform or modify it in the ongoing pursuit of public opinion.
In this watershed moment, when stop-and-frisk is opening a window into the daily plight of thousands, the very people who put their bodies on the line to put this issue into the spotlight and openly call out for its abolition, are vigorously prosecuted and threatened with incarceration. I refuse to accept this. It’s unthinkable that the Queens District Attorney, who couldn’t make a case against the cops who murdered Sean Bell, is now throwing the book at nonviolent civil disobedience protesters. In this light, the intended effect of this prosecution is insidiously transparent: to send a chilling warning through the movement against mass incarceration, and dampen the spirit of resistance it has ignited. To put it quite simply: don’t speak up, and certainly, don’t fight back.
Well, I’m speaking up. And not just as someone who is passionate about the issue. I speak as a target of police abuse, as a Fulbright Scholar, whose scholarship was almost denied after being assaulted by Boston Police, and then charged with disturbing the peace. I speak to you as an artist and educator whose work in New York City public schools has me witness the humiliation and degradation of the youth by the NYPD on a daily basis. I speak to you as a New Freedom Fighter against the New Jim Crow, a system of mass incarceration that has 2.4 million mostly blacks and Latinos warehoused in prisons across the nation, with stop-and-frisk as a major pipeline into that system.
Most of all, I speak to you as someone who has cast their lot with those at the bottom of society: with those thousands of youth who are brutalized, targeted, harassed, and shuffled off behind bars—and is now facing years in prison for standing with them.
On October 23rd, we fully intend to stop this railroading by bringing the political battle into the courtroom and putting stop-and-frisk on trial. If we are allowed to be convicted and jailed without a massive fight, then the battle against stop-and-frisk and the spirit of resistance it has engendered will be seriously dampened. But there is a silver lining: if people stand with us in this legal battle–if we meet and defeat their attempts to silence and punish us–then the movement will gain further initiative and pull many more people into the struggle against mass incarceration.
Jamel is a multimedia artist, hip-hop pedagogue and freedom fighter working out of New York City.