Know Your Rights Mural – Harlem


A beautiful new street mural was unveiled in Harlem yesterday, a kind of primer on stop and frisk and racial profiling. The Know your Rights Mural dedication on 138 street and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd, comes a day after the New York City Council voted for more control over the New York Police Department.

Six months in the making, the mural is a collaboration between Peoples’ Justice for Community Control & Police Accountability (PJ), Picture The Homeless (PTH) and the artist Sophia “I Am Wet Paint” Dawson!

It was a milestone for the many activists whom I first met in late 2011 and through their efforts made “Stop and Frisk”, racial profiling and police misconduct, a national debate.

For residents, the mural is personal. At the dedication Yusef Salaam, a member of the Central Park 5, and a resident of 138 street, said if only he had known his rights and if his family has been better informed, they might have been able to defend themselves against police intimidation and spared Salaam wasted years in prison.

To learn more about he Central Park 5, see the Ken Burns movie.

Trayvon Martin meet Ramarley Graham

Silent March against Stop and Frisk and Racial Profiling by the New York Police

Ramarley Graham

Before the world heard of Trayvon Martin, another teenager, Ramarley Graham, then 18 years old, was walking home in the Bronx when New York Police officers later claiming they thought Graham had a weapon, chased him into his home, busted down the door, climbed the stairs and shot him dead in the boy’s bathroom in front of his grandmother. The young man was unarmed. The police, in plain clothes, had no search warrant. The family held monthly vigils at their home drawing hundreds of people. They marched on the Bronx’s 47th police precinct and protested in front of the Bronx District Attorney’s office asking for answers. After more than a year, one police officer Richard Haste, was indicted on manslaughter charges. A crowd of New York Police officers cheered Haste as he exited the courthouse. In May 2013, a judge tossed out the indictment saying the prosecution had mistakenly instructed the grand jury and Richard Haste was set free.

The story of unarmed black teenage boys being shot dead by police or their surrogates (George Zimmerman) repeats nearly every day across the USA. The defense follows a similar script, I thought he had a gun, I thought he was going to hurt me. He looked like he was going to hurt me. Yet there is little accountability, and the killings continue.

Sarah Schulman a writer and professor, posted this on Facebook.

The (Zimmerman) verdict is a privileging of perception over reality. Just because a person feels afraid doesn’t mean they are in danger. In fact, their perception may be so pathological that it puts OTHER people in danger. In this extreme case, taking a young man’s life for no reason. The perpetrator claims to be the victim, and believes that s/he is the victim. And then when the “community” re-enforces the right to false perception regardless of how much pain it causes, the “community” (or state apparatus) becomes an enforcer of injustice.

Photos ©Nina Berman

Stop and Frisk #2

©Nina Berman 2012

The movement to stop “Stop and Frisk” takes on national dimensions as the US Justice Department agrees to investigate whether the policy violates New Yorkers civil rights. See earlier post here: Meanwhile, a large demonstration is planned for June 17 on father’s day, which will surely bring scale to the numbers. What started as an action of civil disobedience in October 2011, has developed swiftly, forcing the city’s mayor, elected officials, and police chief, to answer opponents’ complaints. Meanwhile, the practice set a new record for the first quarter of 2012, with more than 200,000 people being stopped. Watch the video to learn about the impact of Stop and Frisk and the community efforts to abolish it.

Stop and Frisk

At a rate of every minute every day, the New York Police Department stops a person, questions them, asks for identification, and frisks them, sometimes at gunpoint, sometimes slapped against a wall. The number one reason for the stop, according to NYPD statistics, is that the person made a “furtive” look. The number two reason is “other.” Most of the time that person is black or Latino and most of the time they are living in the city’s poorest communities. A very small percentage of these “stop and frisks” result in arrest or the seizure of any kind of contraband. Since 2002, the number of stop and frisks has increased from 149, 000 to approaching 700,000 this year. The NYPD claims that “stop and frisk” is an effective policing strategy but its own statistics paint a different picture.

A dedicated group of activists, along with author and professor Cornel West , stood in front of a police precinct in Harlem last October and got arrested in protest against Stop and Frisk. They are now on trial and face up to 15 days in prison if convicted. I got to know many of these activists over the past few months and photographed them as they try to put an end to police violence and intimidation. When police gunned down an unarmed teenager , Ramarley Graham, from the Bronx, wanted for no crime, these activists were there, at the wake, at vigils in front of the 46th Bronx police precinct. They have handed out thousands of buttons and distributed literature. They patrol neighborhoods to watch and video tape police activities. They are some of the most dedicated people I have met. Here are a few images.

All photos ©Nina Berman All Rights Reserved