ALBANY — Six New York state senators wore "hoodies" in the staid, 235-year-old Capitol chamber to express their outrage at the deadly shooting of a black youth in Florida that they blame on public attitudes born in New York City.
The Democrats from the city, four of them black and two white, wore their gray and blue suit jackets over their hoodies, remaining in conformance with the Senate rules in the 62-seat chamber. There was no comment from the Republican majority.
"It was born here in New York City and now it has cascaded all the way down to the southern coast of Florida," said Sen. Eric Adams, a Democrat and former sergeant with the New York City Police Department. "The stop-and-frisk policy gave birth not only to police officers believing that a person of color is automatically a criminal, now it has grown into the civilian patrol units."
Trayvon Martin, 17, died in Florida one month ago on Monday, shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer who has not been charged. Martin wore a hoodie as he walked home on a rainy night in a gated community, carrying only his cell phone, an iced tea container, and Skittles candy.
On Monday, the senators recited a list of black men from New York recently killed in police confrontations and blamed a crackdown on crime dating to the mayoral administration of Rudy Guiliani in the 1990s. That includes community policing that involves questioning residents.
Since then, crime in the city has dropped to historic lows, including a drop in murders by half in a decade, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg refers to New York as the safest big city in the world.
New York City police made a record 684,330 street stops last year, and 87 percent of those targeted were either black or Hispanic under a policy that has been vilified by civil rights groups, but lauded as an essential crime-fighting and life-saving tool by department officials.
About 12 percent were arrested or received summonses during the stops supported by a 1968 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established the benchmark of "reasonable suspicion" — a standard that is lower than the "probable cause" needed for arrest.
In stopping, questioning and frisking, police records indicate that officers are drawn to suspicious behavior: furtive movements, actions that indicate someone may be serving as a lookout, anything that suggests a drug deal, or a person carrying burglary tools, such as a slim jim lock tool or pry bar.
The Bloomberg administration declined comment Monday.
The senators referred to the Florida shooter, George Zimmerman, as a murderer. Zimmerman says he shot in self-defense.
"It is horrific what happened to Trayvon," Adams said. "But it happens every day in the city of New York. His death was the tipping point. It has been tipping for years and how it tipped over and now all across America ... the shadows people see in the dark of their own fears ... and stereotypes is not enough to allow them to take the life of an innocent child."
The U.S. Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation. A grand jury is scheduled to examine the case.
"In this country, we've come a long way, but we still have a long way to go," said Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries. "And while Jim Crow may be dead, he's still got some nieces and nephews who are alive and well."
Jeffries was one of the organizers of the demonstration, along with Adams and Sens. Bill Perkins, Shirley Huntley, Daniel Squadron and Michael Gianaris.