Putting NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk on Trial
By Nahal Zamani
Next Monday, the Center for Constitutional Rights will head to trial in our landmark case, Floyd et al. v. the City of New York, challenging the New York City Police Department’s practice of unconstitutional stops and frisks. The number of stops has grown exponentially in the last decade, largely to meet quota driven numbers rather than community needs.
Under the Constitution, officers cannot stop someone, unless they have reasonable articulable suspicion that the person was involved in or was about to engage in a crime. It is only legal to frisk someone when the officer reasonably believes the individual possesses a weapon or contraband or otherwise poses an immediate threat.
That is what our Constitution requires under the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable search and seizure, but the NYPD only gives lip service to those most basic principles of justice, respect and dignity.
The reality on the street is that the NYPD uses race as an improper substitute for criminal suspicion. These unwarranted stops also violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection because they are racially discriminatory.
The NYPD’s own statistics, provided to us under court order, demonstrate that stop and frisk predominately targets communities of color and low income New Yorkers. Testimonies from affected community members also reveal that in addition to Blacks and Latinos, other communities are also targeted, including LGBTQ people, youth, low-income and homeless people, immigrants and some religious minorities. For an in-depth look into the devastating consequences of stop and frisk on these different communities, see our Human Impact report.
Moreover, the practice is counter-productive for keeping New Yorkers safe. It nets very few criminals of any kind, is an ineffective way to try to get guns off the street, and contributes to the continued mistrust, doubt and fear of the police in communities of color that are already scarred by major incidents of police brutality. Stop and frisk makes communities feel under siege.
The Floyd trial is the culmination of almost 15 years of work by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the growing movement in New York City to end discriminatory policing practices. It is the first citywide class-action lawsuit challenging the NYPD’s city-wide stop-and-frisk practice to be tried in federal court and the most comprehensive legal challenge to the entire program. Floyd presents one of our best opportunities to hold the NYPD accountable for their continued disregard for New Yorker’s most basic rights and end discriminatory policing once and for all.
Come March 18, it will be the people of New York who will have their day in court and the NYPD that will be held accountable for its actions. Join us next Monday morning at the Southern District of New York, 500 Pearl Street. The trial will take place before Judge Shira Scheindlin in Courtroom 15-C and continue onwards for the following five to six weeks.
Nahal Zamani is advocacy program manager with the Center for Constitutional Rights.