Celebrating Mayor de Blasio & the Movement to End stop & Frisk

A group of protesters at the November 19, 2011 march against Stop & Frisk in Jamaica Queens. The covor photo is from the same event (photos by David Rutherford)

A group of protesters at the November 19, 2011 march against Stop & Frisk in Jamaica Queens. The covor photo is from the same event (photos by David Rutherford)

Today’s announcement that Bill Thompson will concede the Democratic Party nomination for mayor of New York CIty to Bill de Blasio caps the end of a long race with plenty of twists and turns – and, for me at least, the most positive outcome that I could imagine only two months ago.

Bill de Blasio’s ascension had many factors, many of which were laid out by this New York Times article. His charismatic black children and wife, his son’s afro going viral, the meltdown of Anthony Weiner, John Liu’s campaign administrative missteps, and Sharpton’s refusal to vouch for Bill Thompson are but a few. As always, especially in a field of five serious candidates, the actions of other contenders have as much to do with the one’s outcome as his or her own decisions.

#Gowiththefro and #fromentum aside, there is certainly no single factor larger in Bill de Blasio’s New York victorious campaign than his stronger opposition to stop and frisk. While not as far to the left as John Liu, who demanded the end of the practice, De Blasio attached oversight to the program that would all but eliminate it. Over-surveillance is national policy in poor black and latino neighborhoods, but in New York City the practice was brought to unprecedented extremes – that excess is referred to as Stop and Frisk.

Personally, I have a solid amount of experience with both stop and frisk and the End Stop and Frisk Movement. Not even living in the city, I have been stopped several times in New York City over the past two years – where the officer once mused that he “smelled weed” on me. I participated in two of the earliest End Stop and Frisk protests in Brownsville and Jamaica Queens, momentum builders for that movement. Since that point I’ve heard dozens and dozens of heart breaking and tearful testimonies from young people and their parents about the humiliation and fear of resulting from the policy.

The oversight that Bill de Blasio proposed goes farther than the stop-and-frisk-ending measures insisted upon by Judge Shira A. Scheindlin last month. De Blasio was the only major candidate who proposed allowing victims of stop and frisk to sue the department in state court, and was the only of the top four candidates to support both of the following measures: replacing Ray Kelly as commissioner and appointing an inspector general to oversee the department. While ending stop and frisk totally is what I’d like to see, ending its unprecedented excesses in New York would improve the daily lives and restore civil rights to hundreds of thousands of young black and latino men and their families. Not surprisingly, as the issue became more widely discussed between the campaigns, de Blasio’s support soared to an off the charts 56% amongst voters who considered Stop and Frisk excessive, cementing his position and helping to make the result a formality by election day. Hopefully de Blasio, a shoo-in against his Republican challenger, will stay true to his promise to get rid the practice as we know it.

However, a large part of his victory and the dismantling of an oppressive program should be credited to activists, namely Carl Dix, the initiator of the movement to end the practice. After all, politicians only move as far as the people who push them, and it is people, like Dix, who pushed Stop and Frisk to center stage. Even “progressive” news outlets don’t give credit to the activists that risked their own livelihoods to build opposition to stop and frisk. It was Carl Dix and his closest allies who established this movement. It is those individuals who were arrested several times during peaceful demonstration and faced charges leading to two criminal trials. It is Dix associate Noche Diaz who almost faced prison time for repeatedly, and legally, standing up to police violence. Cornel West was the first notable figure arrested alongside Dix. Gbenga Akinnagbe, who played Chris in the critically acclaimed HBO series The Wire, stood in solidarity with this End Stop & Frisk Movement. Instead of acknowledging Carl Dix’s coalition, every report from major news outlets that I’ve seen mentions “activists”, and when they mention anyone by name, it’s Al Sharpton. Al Sharpton is even less responsible for the movement to end stop and frisk than is Bill de Blasio.

While we celebrate the end of a large arm of the oppressive Bloomberg era in New York, in name and hopefully in practice, let’s give credit where it’s due.

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