Dozens of Harlem residents proudly blew whistles yesterday in order to sound the alarm on Stop and Frisk.
The protest was a part of a city wide demonstration across all five boroughs led by the Stop Mass Incarceration Network. The group is urging New Yorkers to blow whistles anytime they witness a neighbor being stopped by the police.
Organizers of the protest say the initiative has already moved beyond just symbolism, residents are actually blowing their SMIN-issued orange and yellow whistles when they see someone getting harassed by the police.
“Everything that we’ve seen up until today has shown that people will absolutely blow the whistle,” Will Reese, one of the initiative’s organizers, says. “We’ve seen dozen of examples of it.”
At one point, a shy but enthusiastic 11-year-old boy named Atari got on the megaphone and gave a first-hand account of how whistles helped him when he was stopped by a police officer yesterday while walking from the store with a plastic bag in his hands.
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Once neighbors caught sight of the officer harassing the boy, they sounded the whistles given to them by SMIN.
“I was happy because this needs to stop,” Atari announced to onlookers. “I came by, put some money in the bucket, took some whistles, went up the block and gave them out.”
Atari felt compelled to join the protests, along with the many other Harlem residents, young and old, who whistled back at the protestors as they marched down West 125th Street and through the Ulysses Grant and Manhattanville housing projects.
However, some passersby, including a number of teenage blacks and Latinos appeared rather apathetic to the cause.
Carl Dix is one of the lead organizers in the campaign to end Stop and Frisk, and he’s not particularly concerned or surprised by the apathy displayed by some of the younger residents.
“Kids are kids. I remember when I was fifteen, I was mainly not interested in things like this,” Dix said. “When the police are unleashed to target young black people, young Latino people, some of those youth who walk by might be the ones who are targeted. That’s why I’m out here right now trying to sound the alarm.”
Actor Gbenga Akinnagbe, who played rugged hit-man Chris Partlow on the hit show The Wire, is heavily involved in the movement to end Stop and Frisk. So involved, in fact, he and other protestors were arrested in Brownsville last year at a demonstration against the controversial enforcement policy.
Careful to separate fiction and reality, Akinnagbe noted that there are a few important lessons that people should can take away from The Wire.
“Pay attention to those in authority, because if you don’t they go run amok in the name of the people. So pay attention,” he said.
SMIN has been reaching out to people across the five boroughs for the past few weeks, handing out whistles and spreading the word about Stop and Frisk. They’ve been pretty damn loud about it, too. But, organizers were quick to note that yesterday’s demonstrations were just a beginning, not an end.
“It’s one step at a time. Some are disinterested, some are excited and some won’t act until it affects them, and if your black or brown it’ll affect you soon if not already.”
The protestors ended the demonstration by using the upbeat occasion to bring about a rare occurrence in West Harlem.
“There’s beef between Manhattanville and Grant homes. We’re going to go down there and say ‘today we’re together against what the police do to people,'” Dix said. “We’re going to bring out the people. We’re all in the same boat, and when you’re in the same boat you need to paddle together.”