HARLEM — Elected officials and community activists gathered in East Harlem Thursday to try to jumpstart the movement against the NYPD's controversial stop-and-frisk policy.
City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem, said she organized the event in her district because the 23rd Precinct, which polices the area, led Manhattan in stop-and-frisks.
"We are not opposed to stop-and-frisk if they are being done in a way that respects civil rights," said Mark-Viverito.
Organizers rallied at the Taino Towers at East 123rd Street and Second Avenue to call for the passage of the Community Safety Act, a series of bills that has been languishing in the City Council since June. The legislation would counteract stop-and-frisk by creating an independent inspector general to oversee the NYPD, and implement protections against discrimination and unlawful searches, among other initiatives.
Comptroller John Liu, who is running for mayor, said he would "end, not mend" stop-and-frisk because it hurts New Yorkers.
"The biggest form of institutional racial profiling is taking place right here in New York City," Liu said.
The number of New Yorkers stopped and frisked is something you would expect in a "third world country," he said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly have defended stop-and-frisk as a valuable practice that has helped the city achieve record low crime numbers. Police conducted 685,000 stop-and-frisks in 2011 and recovered 8,000 illegal weapons, mostly knives, and 819 guns, according to NYPD statistics.
Activists from the Bronx Defenders, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Justice Committee said a recent ruling by a federal judge, which limited the use of stop-and-frisk in relation to landlords who give police permission to arrest people who are not tenants at their building, proved they were making progress.
City Councilwoman Leticia James, who is running for public advocate, said the ruling shows stop-and-frisks were occurring without any "objective criteria."
"Stop-and-frisk should be reformed to make it consistent with the constitution," she said. "They shouldn't be based on a hunch, suspicion, look or a feel."
Beyond the ruling, activists said they plan to do more "cop watch" patrols in East Harlem, one of the many neighborhoods where activists record stop-and-frisks.
"Until the people put pressure on the police and let them know they are watching," said Jose LaSalle of the group Stop Stop-and-Frisk, "nothing will change."
At the rally, Sara Diallo, who is homeless, told participants that she and her boyfriend were harassed on a train on a recent night simply for sleeping in the subway.
"We didn't do anything wrong but they said my boyfriend was breaking the law," said Diallo, 30, adding that her boyfriend was scheduled to start a new job the next morning. "We were sleeping. We were quiet.
"Just because we are homeless," she added, "does not mean we are criminals."