A class action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of New York City’s stop-and-frisk laws opened on Monday, March 18 in federal court.
The lawsuit, Floyd v. City of New York, was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights and claims to represent hundreds of thousands of victims of stop-and-frisk. The trial will hear testimonies from 12 black or Hispanic plaintiffs, as well as several police officials. It is expected to last four to six weeks.
Advocates of stop-and-frisk argue that the policy has helped to significantly reduce New York City’s crime rate.
“Last year, we had the lowest number of murders that we’ve had in 50 years, lowest number of shootings. Something is going right here,” New York Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in a City Council meeting earlier this month.
However, those against the policy say that it is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy, considering that in many cases the reason for suspicion hinges entirely on race. According to CBS News, of the 531,159 people stopped in 2012, 51 percent were black and 32 percent were Hispanic.
“The racial composition of these neighborhoods is the most significant predictor of stop activity. And to us, that’s a pretty damning piece of evidence and really, we think, shows that this whole practice is about race and it’s about occupying these communities of color,” said Darius Charney, a lawyer from the Center of Constitutional Rights, in an National Public Radio report.
Not all police officers who testify in the trial defend stop-and-frisk. On Thursday, a recording of NYPD officer Pedro Serrano and his commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack, of the 40th Precinct in the South Bronx, was played in court. In the recording McCormack identified the people creating the most problems as black males from ages 14 to 21.
Serrano is the second Bronx police officer to testify that he felt pressure to fill a quota of stop-and-frisks. Officer Adhyl Polanco, of the 41st Precinct, testified a day earlier that this quota was exactly 20 summons and one arrest per month.
Stop-and-frisk hits home for Stern freshman Dre Hilton, who recalled his experience of being stopped while walking with friends in Washington Square Park.
“We started to leave knowing the park would soon be closing when the officer drove up and began to command us to face the gate on the edge of the park away from him. He then began frisking us.”
Hilton said that the officer was looking for a stolen iPhone, and after not finding anything, drove off in his car with two people whom he assumed to be reporters of the crime.
“The policy as I read is for removing guns off the streets so why go to through the process for a stolen iPhone?” Hilton said. “The policy seems to just provide a reason for officers to intimidate individuals and impede on our personal rights.”
After hearing all of the court testimonies over the next month, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, of Federal District Court, will decide whether the NYPD may continue or reform its current policy.
Veronica Carchedi is city/state editor. Adjoa Hackman is a contributing writer. Email them at [email protected]