Challenging racial profiling

January 25, 2012

Jon Reiner reports on a protest to support New York City activist Jazz Hayden.

MORE THAN 60 people representing over 10 civil rights and other social justice organizations braved below-freezing weather and gathered by the steps of the Manhattan Supreme Court January 18 to voice support for longtime Harlem community activist Joseph "Jazz" Hayden.

Hayden is a founding member of the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow and another victim of the New York Police Department's racist and illegal policy of racial profiling.

On July 30 of last year, Hayden filmed and questioned two NYPD officers while they were conducting a search of a vehicle they had stopped for an alleged traffic violation on 125th Street in Harlem. For years, Hayden has made films like this with support from the program Cop Watch.

During the video, Hayden repeatedly asked officers why they were searching the vehicle. One of the officers repeatedly shined a flashlight at him for most of the stop in an effort to thwart him from filming their faces or the illegal search they were conducting. Neither of the men in the vehicle, both of whom are African American, were given a ticket or cited for anything illegal.

Jazz Hayden speaks to supporters and press during the rally
Jazz Hayden speaks to supporters and press during the rally

In an interview Jazz conducted following the incident, the men made it clear that they believed the reason they were stopped was because they were Black. They also told Jazz that they planned to file a complaint against the two officers with the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

Fast forward to December 3, 2011, when Hayden became a victim of the same crime he filmed in the summer, when the same two officers pulled him over in Harlem. Upon seeing him, Hayden said, one of the officers remarked, "We know you," before they proceeded to illegally search his car.

During the search, the officers found a penknife, which is perfectly legal to carry, and arrested Hayden. To make matters worse, Hayden was held for nearly two days and the district attorney attempted to force him to post an outrageous $16,000 bond. A judge rejected this and ordered Hayden's release.

BEFORE HAYDEN'S initial court appearance on January 18, social justice activists and religious and political leaders gathered outside the Manhattan Supreme Court for a press conference and rally to bring attention to the NYPD's racist and illegal policy of "stop and frisk."

Among the speakers were New York City council member Charles Barron, civil rights attorney Liz Fink, Riverside Church senior minister Rev. Stephen Phelps, King Downing of the American Friends Service Committee, Alfredo Carrasquillo of VOCAL-NY, and Pam Africa, who is a MOVE member and coordinator of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Additionally, activists from Amnesty International, Occupy Wall Street, the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow, Picture the Homeless, and Stop Stop and Frisk were among the supporters. Using the people's mic, activists spoke about the crippling components of the prison-industrial complex, which has raked in billions of federal and state dollars, while decimating communities of color all over the country.

Protesters chanted, "No justice! No peace!" and "Stop and frisk don't stop the crime. Stop and frisk is the crime." Jazz told the crowd, "I appreciate your support, but this support is not for me. This support is for the people that are subjected to this--700,000 people last year, 700,000 people stopped and frisked!"

Retired NYPD detective Carlton "Chucky" Berkley, a supporter of Cop Watch, argued that many more people were stopped and frisked last year in New York than the official number released by the NYPD. "As a former cop, whenever a cop crosses the line, he is no longer a cop," said Berkley. "He is a criminal and should be treated as such." Many in the crowd argued that the NYPD is in itself a criminal organization.

About 30 of the activists, all wearing red ribbons of support, followed Jazz into the courtroom and were joined by over 20 others who came to support Jazz. When his case was called, all of the supporters stood in solidarity with him, clearly shocking the bailiff.

Hayden--who is represented by attorney Sarah Kunstler, daughter of the late civil rights attorney and activist William Kunstler--made a brief appearance in front of the judge before his case was adjourned until April 17, pending grand jury action.

Following his courtroom appearance, activists--led by Hayden--went back outside and discussed further steps to continue to build momentum against stop and frisk and police brutality.

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