Thousands March Down Fifth Avenue in Silence in Protest of Police Brutality on Father’s Day


SPANISH HARLEM — It was the sound of the birds that was most startling.

As thousands of protestors marched, in silence, down Fifth Avenue yesterday, it was a strange thing indeed to hear so many New Yorkers not speaking, yelling or blaring music, but to just simply hear birds chirping on a beautiful, late Spring Sunday afternoon.

The protestors were gathered to protest Stop and Frisk, the NYPD’s process of stopping and frisking hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers every year. But it was also to protest police profiling (and in the case of Trayvon Martin, citizen profiling) more broadly and nationally. It was only the second silent march ever understaken by the NAACP, the march’s main sponsor, with the last being in 1915 to protest lynchings in the South. The march was filled with images of Martin of Florida, as well as New Yorkers Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo and Ramarley Graham.

Much to our surprise, there were no references we saw to Rodney King, perhaps the nation’s most famous victim of police brutality, who had been pronounced dead earlier in the day.

Despite the participation of a wide variety of groups, ranging from churches to LGBT organizations to Quakers, as well as weed advocates to the United Federation of teachers, the parade had a modest feel to it. There was not a great feeling of anger or rage that was palpable to us, but more an air of melancholy and peaceful resistance. The procession had the feel of a funeral procession, except that the crowd seemed to also have an undeniable joy at being with friends on such a beautiful day.

Some of the saddest and most beautiful couples seemed to be the fathers with their young sons on Father’s Day, who felt resigned to what awaited their sons in a few years. This father, M. Scott Jonhson, an artist and educator who works at the Schomberg Center in Harlem, was with his six-year-old son, Stone.

The father talked about being there as an “investment in his [son’s] future” and having to have “the talk” with him at six. “I didn’t want to have the conversation with him so early, but you have to, you have to, to prepare him for 10!”

A few interesting things about signs people were using: while most groups comprised of primarily black people used the word “profiling” in reference to the police, most groups comprised of Muslims (of all colors) had signs about police “spying,” a reference to the NYPD program of spying on Muslims in a variety of settings (even in New Jersey).

This was one of the more colorful outfits we saw.

But it was really the older ladies in wheelchairs who drove their point home the most effectively.

Here’s Deborah Almonstaser (in white), a Muslim principal who lost her job at the city’s only (now defunct) Arabic language school due to the New York Post’s bad reporting. She was the person to make us aware of the birds.

Noticeably, there were not many young men marchers.

It took about 45 minutes for the last marchers to depart from the start at Fifth Avenue and 110th Street. The quiet lasted entirely, even being observed by bystanders on the adjoining sidewalks, until 86th Street. There, the braying crowds emptying from the Metropolitan Museum of Art filled the street with a startlingly loud and ugly chatter.

The security at the end of the route, near Mayor Bloomberg’s house, felt totally disproportionate. As the thousands of silent marchers to 78th Street, a plethora of cops awaited (unlike only a handful of community affairs officers prior), with a menacing NYPD helicopter circling overhead.

We’ll have pictures up by C.S. Muncy soon.