NYPD’s Stop and Frisk Put on Trial in “Historic” Class Action Lawsuit

Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR, PRODUCER, TRNN: In New York City, a trial began this week challenging alleged abuses in the New York Police Department’s practice of stop, question, and frisk. In the case known as Floyd v. the City of New York, lawyers are arguing the NYPD’s policy systematically and knowingly violates the rights of millions of mostly black and Latino New Yorkers. More than 5 million stop and frisks have taken place during the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The federal class action lawsuit seeks to permanently bar a majority of these stops that lawyers say lack reasonable cause and are discriminatory. Vince Warren is executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the group spearheading the case. He says the trial marks a historic moment for New York.

VINCE WARREN, EXEC. DIR., CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: No court case is more critical to the future of our city than this one. The stakes are the constitutional rights of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who have been illegally stopped by the NYPD and the rights of those who will be stopped in the future.

The NYPD makes more than half a million stops each year, which equate to literally thousands of stops each and every day. As a result, the rights of countless New Yorkers are being routinely violated, and entire city neighborhoods are living under siege from their own police department.

Because of stop and frisks, black and brown people, gay and transgender people, young folks, and other folks are fearful every time that they step out of their houses.

NOOR: One of the original four plaintiffs in the case, 25-year-old David Ourlicht, says his rights have been routinely violated since he turned 15. He describes one incident in which he was stopped and frisked after leaving school.

DAVID OURLICHT, PLAINTIFF, FLOYD V. NEW YORK: I got stopped, asked where I was going, what I was doing. And as soon as I questioned why I was being stopped, he said I had a gun on me, threw me against the wall, took my backpack, dumped it all on the ground, wrote me a ticket for disorderly conduct once I asked for his name and badge information.

Another incident, I was in the same area. I was leaving my house at the time and going to my parents’ house for dinner, and I got stopped again by undercover cops. And they pulled–four of them came to me, just like, we know you have something on you, searched me for about 15, 20 minutes. And then they left me alone and said, have a nice day.

NOOR: Though he’s acknowledged the need for reform, Mayor Michael Bloomberg continues to strongly defend the practice.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: There’s no denying [incompr.] taking guns off the street can save lives. And to borrow a phrase from President Clinton, I believe the practice needs to be amended, not ended, to ensure that stops are conducted appropriately with as much courtesy as possible.

NOOR: Attorneys say they’re using the NYPD’s own data on stop and frisk to prove they are violating the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment. Darius Charney is lead counsel on the case and senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

DARIUS CHARNEY, SENIOR STAFF ATTORNEY, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: The New York Police Department’s defense to this overwhelming data, which is, look, we go where the crime is, is going to be debunked, it’s going to be debunked completely. Its going to be debunked by the foremost expert, statistical expert on the New York Police Department’s stop and frisk practices, Jeffrey Fagan.

NOOR: Charney says the police officers who stopped the plaintiffs will be cross-examined, along with whistleblowers who allege their superior officers direct them to make illegal stops.

CHARNEY: Some of those officers will be testifying about what has happened in their precincts, what their supervisors tell them to do. You know, some have them have made, I think, audio recordings that I think a lot of us have heard. They’ve been, you know, on the internet and on TV, and they’re very powerful, and I think they’re hard to refute, you know, I mean, and particularly when, you know, the person on the tape admits, yeah, that’s me, and they’re saying these, you know, extremely outrageous things. I think that’s pretty powerful.

NOOR: The U.S. district judge hearing this case, Shira Scheindlin, ruled in January that the NYPD was violating residents’ constitutional rights in another stop and frisk lawsuit challenging the practice near apartmentment buildings in the bronx. The remedy portion of that has case has been consolidated with this week’s trial.

Plaintiffs like 24 year old Nicholas Peart are not seeking monetary compensation. Instead, they are demanding an end to all discriminatory stops. The lawsuit also calls for a federal monitor to ensure the ban is implemented.

NICHOLAS PEART, PLAINTIFF, FLOYD V. CITY OF NEW YORK: I am a part of this case because I wouldn’t want my brothers to go through this. I wouldn’t want other people just like me to go through this and have to, you know, be subjected to something that I feel is totally unjust. And, you know, I hope some change comes out of this. You know. And I want to exhaust every option to bring change as much as I can.

NOOR: Plaintiffs are also demanding that the NYPD use input from communities of color targeted by stop and frisk when drafting new law-enforcement policies.

Anti stop and frisk activists plan to pack the courtroom for the duration of the trial, which is expected to last 4 to 6 weeks.

Reporting for The Real News and FSRN, this is Jaisal Noor in New York.

End

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.