NEW YORK - Politicians, civil society leaders and residents took to the streets of New York on Saturday, January 7, to protest police behavior, accusing it of targeting ethnic minorities.
If city officials don't acknowledge that the police department "has created a system of apartheid in this city of New York, we are going to show you that there will be no peace," Kirsten John Foy, a top aide to New York Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, told ABC.
Protestors accused New York Police Department (NYPD) of targeting ethnic minorities, especially Muslims, blacks and Latinos.
They say that NYPD officers have been randomly stopping and searching hundreds of thousands of minority members every year.
Protestors called for holding police officers accountable for abuses of innocent people.
Now is the time to act because too many people are being hurt," City Councilwoman Letitia James said during the protest.
She said the rally was being held in a "symbolic space to demand more police accountability."
Among protestors were Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and members of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition and the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Anger has grown against the New York police following reports that the NYPD used undercover agents to spy on Muslim communities.
A report by the Associated Press said that the NYPD sent out undercover officers into ethnic communities to track daily life and monitor mosques as well as Muslim student organizations.
It also revealed that NYPD intelligence, titled the most aggressive domestic intelligence agency in the US, had established so-called Demographics Unit using plainclothes police officers to monitor ethnic groups in the metropolitan region.
However, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the practice, saying it does not take religion into account in its policing.
Police commissioner Raymond W. Kelly also denied targeting Muslims in its policing, saying it only followed leads.
Among protestors was Jumaane Williams, a black City Council member who was handcuffed last September while walking on a Brooklyn sidewalk during the West Indian Day Parade.
"This is not an anti-NYPD rally," Williams said at the start of the rally.
He said ethnic communities would welcome a police presence that worked closely with them to weed out crime without targeting people based of their race or religion.
But the Democratic councilman said that Mayor Bloomberg and his police commissioner "have refused to acknowledge that a problem even exits."
Foy, de Blasio's top aide who was also taken into police custody while walking along the parade route in September, said the protest has a clear message to the city mayor and police commissioner.
"We're not going to let you smile at us while clubbing us over the head," Foy told the rally.
American Muslim leaders have also been critical of the New York police.
Muslim leaders boycotted an annual inter-faith breakfast hosted by Mayor last month.
New York is home to some 800,000 Muslims, about 10 percent of the city's population.
There are about 100 mosques throughout New York's five boroughs.The United States is home to an estimated Muslim minority of six to eight million.