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Know Your Rights
Source: The New York Times
Subject: Youth & School Programs
Type: Media Coverage

Arrest of 30 Leads Youths to Organize in Brooklyn

The hue and cry over the arrests of about 30 students on the way to a friend’s wake in Bushwick, Brooklyn, last month has spurred a growing youth movement against racial profiling.

Nearly 150 people — mostly students from Bushwick Community High School but including members of City Council, representatives of various community groups and even a few police officers — gathered for a town hall-style meeting at St. Barbara’s Auditorium last night to rally around the cause of fighting profiling by the police.

“We are coming together to let the community know what has been going on with the cops, the excessive stop-and-frisks, the profiling, to let them know that it is time for a change in our community,” said Dana Jordan, who is a senior at Bushwick Community High School and a founding member of the Student Coalition Against Racial Profiling, or Scarp.

“We started Scarp because we wanted the community to know that we are trying to fight this battle against police profiling and that we need their support.”

The seeds for the coalition were planted after about 30 students, some as young as 13, were arrested on May 21 as they walked down Putnam Avenue on the way to a friend’s wake in Coney Island. The friend, Donnell McFarland, 18, who the police believe was a gang leader, was shot and killed the week before, the police said.

James Kelly, 16, who the police say is a member of a rival gang, has been arrested and charged in the killing.

The police said of the May 21 arrests that they feared that the large gathering of Mr. McFarland’s friends, who might have been part of his gang, could have caused retribution violence. The students have maintained that their only crime was being young and black or Latino.

Most of those arrested on May 21 were charged with disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly. Court dates are scheduled for mid-July.

A few days after the arrests, a group of about 50 students came together to demand, among other things, an apology from the New York Police Department.

“The arrests hit home with us,” Ms. Jordan said. “We have always been taught to think on our own and think on ways to change things. Before this we never had the opportunity, but since this happened in our community, to us, why can’t we do something now?”

Scarp was formed in response to the arrests. Word of the group spread through the school, and the membership grew beyond the core of arrested students to nearly 70, including students in other schools.

Last night at the rally, members of the group asked people who believed they had been victimized by police to fill out forms describing their experiences. A notary was on hand to notarize any statements. Student organizers said they planned to gather accounts of possible abuse and send them to the Brooklyn district attorney’s office for review.

“I find it inspiring,” said Aaron Boyle, a teacher at the high school. “Of course, the circumstances surrounding the movement are so unfortunate, and you wish it didn’t have to be an incident like this to spark this organizing, but the response of the students has been very inspiring.”

Marq Claxton, a former New York City police officer who is now a spokesman for 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, said that what he saw in the youth rally last night could be a sign of change.

“You often have youth coming out to listen to older people speaking about this or that, but the energy in here tonight, how organized they are,” Mr. Claxton said. “These are the people that can usher revolution in this city, especially if they continue to get their fellow youth involved in the movement.”

City Councilman Charles Barron also praised the youth.

“People talk about the hip-hop generation in such negative terms, but what you see here is positive hip-hop energy,” Mr. Barron said. “But you don’t see any news cameras, do you? When the youth are doing something positive, you don’t see them around. But if there was a murder, then this place would be swarming with cameras.”