Young members of the Bushwick community demonstrated at a legal rally in front of the 83rd Police Precinct in Brooklyn on Monday July 9th at 4 p.m. to show their discontent with the treatment of a group of school-aged youth detained on May 21st on charges of disruptive behavior. The community sees these arrests as just another case of racial profiling, which they will no longer tolerate. The rally was organized by the newly-formed Student Coalition Against Racial Profiling (S.C.A.R.P.)
Young members of the Bushwick community demonstrated at a legal rally in front of the 83rd Police Precinct in Brooklyn on Monday July 9th at 4 p.m. to show their discontent with the treatment of a group of school-aged youth detained on May 21st on charges of disruptive behavior, but which they see as just another case of racial profiling. The rally was organized by the newly-formed Student Coalition Against Racial Profiling (S.C.A.R.P.)
Most S.C.A.R.P. members, like most participants at the demonstration were black and Latino youth of the Bushwick community. Many of them were either personally involved in the arrests last May as they made their way to the wake of their friend Donnell McFarland, or were close friends with those involved. To garner community support on the eve of the trial hearings that were to begin that Tuesday, students organized the rally to encourage people to "pack the courthouse," as Asher Callendar, one of S.C.A.R.P.’s co-founder stated.
"The point is to keep the vibe going, to stop the violence, and to keep the community involved," stated Kenneth Frederick, co-founder of S.C.A.R.P.
Demonstrators hoped that the rally would not only create awareness about the trials and the problems of racial profiling, but that it would also show government officials that the Bushwick community would not condone the way in which it is being treated by the officers who are supposed to look after it.
The mass arrests and charges against the students for disorderly conduct and illegal assembly (the latter has been subsequently dropped) sparked the political consciousness of the youth in the area.
"I see things in the community now that I had seen before, but now I see them in detail. My eyes have been opened," said Hector Sosa, another of S.C.A.R.P.’s co-founders and one of the main planners of the rally. He commented on how before the incident the community accepted police harassment as normal. "For a minute it worked on everyone, until this," explained Sosa, asserting that they will no longer accept what they used to perceive as normal. "What happened to McFarlene was definitely a tragedy, but it has made us come together," he added.
Once they decided to take action, with the guidance and encouragement of older community members and established community organizations, the Bushwick youth quickly mobilized to organize planning meetings, publicize the rally through fliers and word of mouth, and arrange the proper security for the event.
Make the Road by Walking, Sankofa Community Empowerment, Uhuru, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement that Care, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement are some of the organizations that are part of the coalition that have been working closely with the young organizers.
"They have done some amazing organizing and outreach work for this issue that is of nation-wide concern, whether from Seattle, Washington, to Brooklyn, NY," stated Lurie Daniel-Favors, from Sankofa Community Empowerment, who, like many other community members, praised the student’s creative efforts to plan the demonstration.
Jesus Gonzalez, a community organizer at Make the Road by Walking commented that students that were not experienced organizers had the guidance of established organizations, such as Make the Road. But while older community members were there to provide guidance and support, it was the youth who first reached out to them, proposed a rally, and organized to garner community support.
"A few days before the rally some of the older folks were hesitant, but students really took the initiative to go on with the project," said Gonzalez, who praised the students’ incessant efforts to plan promote the rally.
Their efforts were rewarded by a large crowd of demonstrators, which included teachers, clergymen, community organizers, and parents, who despite the intense sunlight and unforgiving heat came out to support them.
"As members of the clergy, we will not allow these young people to stand here by themselves," announced Reverend Conrad B. Tillard after expressing his disappointment with the behavior of police officers whose goal should be not to "harass or brutalize, but to protect and serve" the youth of the Bushwick community.
The energy of the attendees did not diminish during the hour-and-a-half-long demonstration, and organizers hope that the same energy will be maintained within the coalition.
"You think that this is going to happen today, but next week it will die out. No, it won’t." That this is only the beginning and that neither the coalition nor their activism efforts will wane became one of the recurring themes in the speeches made in front of the police precinct.
But the young protestors recognize the adversity they face. Indeed, showing the world that youth can make a change may sound idealistic but as they plan the future of S.C.A.R.P.., its vision and its plan of action, they are aware of their short-comings.
One of their main concerns is bringing people in the community together to support their cause despite their differences, something the arrests in May to a certain extent, but where there is still much room for improvement. According to Sosa, most of S.C.A.R.P.’s constituents are African Americans, and as a result many Hispanics automatically believe that it is exclusively a black-activist movement and are reluctant to get involved.
On a more practical level, a pressing concern for the young coalition is identifying and establishing a group of core organizers to lead the general membership.
"Everyone wants to be part of the sexy stuff," says Sosa referring to the rallies, community events and festivals, "but not everyone wants to be part of the planning and organizing."
Overall, the group wants to "leave S.C.A.R.P. as a youth movement." They believe that if young people see the organization is not about adults telling them what to do they will be more likely to get involved. Trying to strike a balance between being young enough to attract the youth but mature enough to be taken seriously by the adults, is were their challenge lies as they make plans for the future.
Despite the adversities, many believe they have a lot going on for them, such as community support, guidance from the elders, and energy and enthusiasm from young participants.
"If we could pull this off in a week, imagine what we can do planning months in advance" said Sosa.
"In the future, we hope to organize community events to educate us about our interactions with one another and to create a positive outlook towards this community problem of policing, "stated Gonzalez. "We will continue existing."