MANHATTAN (CN) – Dozens of Occupy Wall Street activists, including Princeton University’s Cornel West, will face a late April trial on charges of disorderly conduct connected to a protest of New York City’s stop-and-frisk policies.
New York City police arrested more than 30 people on Oct. 21, 2011, as they protested outside the 28th Precinct in Harlem, one of the neighborhoods feeling the brunt of stop and frisk.
At a Thursday morning hearing, nearly all of the 36 arrested activists agreed to consolidate their cases, opting for collective jury trial on April 30.
All but one turned down plea offers for adjournments in contemplation of a dismissal, which would have put off any penalties if they avoided another arrest for six months.
Most are charged with disorderly conduct, which carries a maximum, though rarely sentenced, 15 days in prison.
As he left, Professor West told Courthouse News: “I call it prophetic witness. They call it disorderly conduct.”
Two priests, in white-collared frocks, sat among the other arrested protesters.
West continued to wax eloquent on the spiritual side of civil disobedience, which lies beyond media strategy.
“You do this partly for your own soul,” West said. “Whether the media’s here or not, you do it. Not only because you want to make a statement, and you want to pursue what you understand justice to be. But it helps fortify your own self and soul. You’ve got to be a long-distance runner.”
In addition to popular protests, stop-and-frisk practices have come under increasing court, press and political scrutiny over the past year.
This week, the New York Civil Liberties Union released a report finding a 14 percent rise in stop-and-frisk stops in 2011. Neither or arrests nor summons were issued in nearly nine of 10 stops. About 87 percent of those stopped were black or Latino, according to the report.
At a press conference announcing the findings, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, City Councilman Jumaane Williams and others declared that the NYPD needed oversight to end the practice, either from City Hall, the Department of Justice or the courts.
A federal judge is currently mulling class certification to a lawsuit against stop-and-frisks.
Darius Charney, a lawyer from the Center for Constitutional Rights, said the court should mandate oversight, as another did to correct racist hiring practices in the Fire Department of New York.
Citing the NYCLU study, West said that the jump in stop-and-frisk stats spurred an “increase in consciousness” about its impacts.
“We get a chance to dramatize it now in a much more intense manner,” West said, referring to the upcoming trial. “That’s beautiful, but the unity is just beautiful.”