The tradition of silent marches for civil rights dates back to 1917, when the then 8-year-old NAACP held the first one in New York City to protest lynchings, segregation and race riots in the South. That march, led by NAACP founder W. E. B. DuBois, was the NAACP's first major public protest, and the power demonstrated by thousands of people marching silently through the streets of New York became an iconic symbol of strength in the face of injustice.
Silence is a powerful force that, like other forms of non-violent protest, holds a mirror to the brutality of one's opponents. On June 17, we will hold up a mirror to New York City's stop-and-frisk policy. It is not only discriminatory, it actively seeks to humiliate innocent citizens—particularly African American and Latino men—and criminalize otherwise legal behavior.
Right now in our nation's most diverse city, NYPD officials are legally empowered to stop and pat down any individual based on nothing more than their own suspicion. In 2009, the most common justification for a stop was a vague category called "furtive movements".
The result? Blacks and Latinos are nine times as likely as whites to be stopped by police, and the searches overwhelmingly target young men of color. In one eight-block area of an overwhelmingly black neighborhood in Brooklyn, the police made 52,000 stops over a four-year period – an average of nearly one stop per resident each year.
And the vast majority of those stopped are innocent. In 2011, the NYPD stopped and questioned 685,000 New Yorkers. Of those, 605,000 walked away with no charges – only a feeling of humiliation and anger.
People of color should not be afraid to walk down the street in their own city. On June 17th, we will proudly walk with them to assert that right. Like thousands of activists before us, we will channel the power of our silence to bring public attention to the use of racial profiling by the New York Police Department.