On facing two years in jail for protesting stop-and-frisk

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On Tuesday October 23, I will be on trial along with Carl Dix, who, with Cornel West, initiated the campaign of nonviolent protest to stop stop-and-frisk. We are facing up to two years in jail for participating in a non-violent protest at the NYPD’s 103rd Precinct in Jamaica, Queens last year.

The action last November was the third such protest at a New York City precinct notable for conducting the the most stops-and-frisks. Taking place in the borough of Queens, we held a community rally and marched through the neighborhood of Jamaica, ending at the 103rd Precinct. As we arrived, the building was completely barricaded on all sides, on lock-down in anticipation of the protestors. An officer on the scene slid open one of the metal grates and motioned us inward so that we could protest at the precinct doors. After minutes of chanting and singing outside of the steps, 20 of us were arrested, quite quickly, but held for hours late into the next day.

Now, for less than ten minutes of protesting stop-and-frisk outside of the doors of the 103rd Precinct, which houses the NYPD officers who put fifty shots into Sean Bell, I and 12 co-defendants find ourselves facing two years of jail time.

WATCH: Stop “Stop and Frisk” Protest in Jamaica, Queens, NYC (Third Rally)

The stakes of this case are undoubtedly high. This is the second mass trial resulting from the civil disobedience campaign that has sparked citywide resistance to the stop-and-frisk policy.  The Queens District Attorney added a serious misdemeanor charge to our case last month, and re-wrote our charges last week so that we are being charged as “acting in concert” rather than as individuals.

If anyone thinks this is just “business as usual” and that authorities won’t convict us or send us to jail, let me reiterate — the DA has twice bumped up the charges, and has made it very clear that the prosecutorial apparatus intends to place us behind bars.

A year ago, those who had no first-hand experience of the humiliation of being illegally searched barely knew the practice occurred. Those who got stopped and frisked thought there was nothing one could do about it. Now, the stop-and-frisk policy and the horrors it inflicts are going viral in mainstream society.  Copwatch and videos of NYPD stops garner thousands of views. Nearly every day there are articles or opinion pieces about stop-and-frisk. Potential mayoral candidates have even had to confront this, as politicians line up to claim their opposition to the policy, or express their desire to reform or modify it in the ongoing dialogue of public opinion.

In this watershed moment, when stop-and-frisk is opening a window onto the daily plight of thousands, the very people who put their bodies on the line to put this issue into the spotlight and openly call out for its abolition are vigorously prosecuted and threatened with incarceration. I refuse to accept this. It’s unthinkable that the Queens District Attorney, who couldn’t make a case against the cops who murdered Sean Bell, is now throwing the book at nonviolent civil disobedience protesters.

In this light, the intended effect of this prosecution is insidiously transparent: to send a chilling effect through the movement against mass incarceration, and dampen the spirit of resistance it has ignited.  To put it quite simply: don’t speak up and certainly, don’t fight back.

Well, I’m speaking up.  And not just as someone who is passionate about the issue. I speak as a target of police abuse, as a Fulbright Scholar, whose scholarship was almost denied after being assaulted by Boston police, and who was then charged with disturbing the peace. I speak to you as an artist and educator whose work in New York City public schools has forced me to witness the humiliation and degradation of youths by the NYPD on a daily basis.  I speak to you as a new freedom fighter against the New Jim Crow, a system of mass incarceration that has 2.4 million mostly blacks and Latinos warehoused in prisons across the nation, with stop-and-frisk as a major pipeline into that system.

Most of all, I speak to you as someone who has cast his lot with those at the bottom of society: with those thousands of youths who are brutalized, targeted, harassed, and shuffled off behind bars — and is now facing years in prison for standing with them.

 On October 23, we fully intend to stop this railroading by bringing the political battle into the courtroom and putting stop-and-frisk on trial. If we are allowed to be convicted and jailed without a massive fight, then the battle against stop-and-frisk and the spirit of resistance it has engendered will be seriously dampened. But there is a silver lining: if people stand with us in this legal battle — if we meet and defeat their attempts to silence and punish us — then the movement will gain further initiative and pull many more people into the struggle against mass incarceration.

UPDATE, Oct. 24, 8 pm:

Thank you for your support. Some updates:  we’ve just completed jury selection and opening statements, and will move on to hear the prosecution’s case tomorrow. So far, its looking like the defense won’t present until next Tuesday, October 30th –which means the trial could go through next Thursday, November 1.  You can stay updated via my twitter feed : @jamnopeanut, and the Stop Mass Incarceration website and twitter handle @stopmassincnet.

As a matter of clarity, I face charges amounting to two years of jail time time. There are two charges of OGA (obstruction of governmental administration) that each carry a one-year sentence stemming from a single act. However, because the charges both stem from one act, if sentenced, I could serve the sentences concurrently, and would face a maximum of one year in prison. I just found this out today.

The article and the trial have been able to garner quite a bit of attention in the media thus far — but we’re not out of the woods yet.

Keep tweeting, keep posting, keep sharing, and keep fighting!

Jamel Mims is an multimedia artist, hip hop pedagogue, and activist from Washington, D.C.. In 2008 he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study hip hop in Beijing. His work, which ranges from multimedia ethnography to political expression, is joined together by common themes of youth culture, social transformation, and the urban environment. He currently lives in New York City. This essay was republished with permission.