Jamel Shabazz: Street Photographer

Charlie Ahearn’s Film Retraces a Moment in New York Style - Video 1 / / 3

As a teenage photographer in early 80s East Flatbush, Brooklyn, Jamel Shabazz set out to document the then nascent movement of hip-hop. Through the iconic style of his MCs, neighborhood kids and gang members, the unequivocal attitude of New York’s youth was recognized as the calling card of the city’s creative renaissance. Published in 2001, Shabazz’ first book Back In The Days was celebrated as an exhilarating snapshot of the times, and his visual flair has been brought to life in a new documentary by the legendary hip-hop historian and director, Charlie Ahearn.  “On the cover of Jamel’s book were two young men on 42nd Street. They were captured posing in such strong form as a kind of respectful bulwark against all the chaos that you see around them on ‘The Deuce,’” explains Ahearn, the notable filmmaker also responsible for the classic old-school movie, Wild Style. “I immediately knew that here was an original artist for our time.” [1]

©jamel shabazz.all rights reserved


Jamel Mims on facing two years in prison for protesting Stop & Frisk
October 23, 2012

New York City teacher Jamel Mims faces up to two years in prison for nonviolently protesting the most controversial racial profiling policy in America today. Last year, he was one of the key members of a civil disobedience campaign to stop Stop-and-Frisk that boasted the iconic academic Cornel West as one of its leading advocates. Today, he stands on trial along with 12 other campaigners.

As discussed in last week’s State of the Left, the NYPD policy involves 1,800 instances of stopping and frisking citizens every day; in the last decade, 87% of people who are stopped are black or Latino; and about 9 of 10 are innocent of any wrongdoing. There is not even a hint of exaggeration in saying that certain sections of New York City are turned into police states for minority youth.

Enter Jamel Mims:

On Tuesday October 23, I will be on trial along with Carl Dix, who, with Cornel West, initiated the 2011 campaign of nonviolent protest to stop Stop-and-Frisk. We are facing up to two years in jail for non-violent protest at the NYPD 103rd precinct in Jamaica, Queens last year.

The stakes are undoubtedly high: this is the second stop-and-frisk protest mass trial resulting from the culminating action of the civil disobedience campaign that sparked citywide resistance to the policy.  The Queens District Attorney added a serious misdemeanor charge on us last month, and re-wrote our charges last week so that we’re charged with ‘acting in concert’ rather than as individuals.

The action last November  was the third such protest at New York City precincts with the most stop-and-frisks, this one taking place in the borough of Queens. We held a community rally and march through Jamaica, Queens, which ended at the 103rd Precinct.  As our march arrived at the precinct, it was completely barricaded on all sides – on lock-down in anticipation of the protest.  An officer slides open one of the metal grates and motions us inward so that we may protest at the precinct doors.  After minutes of chanting and singing outside of the precinct steps, 20 of us were arrested, quite quickly, but held for hours late into the next day.  For less than ten minutes of protesting stop-and-frisk outside of the doors 103rd precinct, which houses the NYPD officers who put fifty shots into Sean Bell, 12 co-defendants and I now find ourselves facing two years of jail time.

If anyone think this is just an empty threat, and they won’t convict or send us to jail, let me reiterate—the DA has twice bumped up the charges in the last month, 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, and 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 pursuit of public opinion.

In this watershed moment, when stop-and-frisk is opening a window into 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 while trying to leave a party. I speak to you as an artist and teacher whose work in New York City public schools has me witness the humiliation and degradation of the youth by the NYPD on a daily basis.  I speak to you as a committed opponent of the New Jim Crow, a system of mass incarceration that has 2.4 million mostly black and Latino men 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 their lot with those at the bottom of society: with those thousands of youth who are brutalized, targeted, harassed, and shuffled off behind bars — and is now facing years in prison for standing with them.

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. On the other hand, 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.

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The United States police state imprisons all dissidents, from police brutality activists to government whistleblowers


Aaron Vernon, Alexandre Cunha,  Leebo Freeman, Harry Curran, Nick Warkus, Ton Heukels, Harry Goodwins, Justus Ensfeld, Lukas Katinas, Nicolas Hagius, Nicolai Otta, Lucas Ziegele, Paul Boche, Demy Matzen, Malcolm de Ruiter,Ryan Barrett, Luca Jamel, Marcel Nestler, Andre Bona, Ian Sharp, Norman Theuerkorn and Lex Olsen for L’Officiel Hommes Thailand November 2013.

Photographed byLivia Alcalde.