NYC ‘stop and frisk’ gets court slapdown

Grassroots resistance needed to end it

A federal court here declared on Aug. 12 that the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk program was unconstitutional. The ruling in Floyd v. City of New York followed a class-action case brought by four men of color.

During a 10-week trial earlier this year, the plaintiffs’ legal team presented overwhelming, detailed evidence of the NYPD’s racial profiling, which especially targets young Black and Latino men.

Judge Shira Sheindlin found that stop-and-frisk violates the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Under stop-and-frisk, people can be stopped and searched by the police anytime simply because they “look suspicious” or are present in “high-crime areas” — which to the police translate as non-white.

While stopping short of banning stop-and-frisk, the court for the first time acknowledged the reality of blatant racial profiling that has fueled police violence and contributed to the criminalization of generations of young New Yorkers.

Sheindlin ordered a court-appointed monitor to oversee reforms of NYPD practices. She also ordered a Joint Remedial Process that is to include representatives of affected communities as well as the city, the NYPD and attorneys.

Hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of New Yorkers have been subject to the invasive, humiliating and potentially deadly stop-and-frisk program since it was implemented by arch-racist Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the mid-1990s. Since then the program has expanded exponentially under billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Between 2004 and mid-2012, records show 4.43 million stops.

Stop-and-frisk was an outgrowth of Giuliani’s misnamed “Quality of Life” campaign and the infamous Street Crimes Unit, with its fascistic motto “We own the night.” A Street Crimes Unit slaughtered Amadou Diallo with 19 bullets in 1999.

The Floyd ruling has national implications, since many cities have adopted the stop-and-frisk model or are actively considering it.

Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly denounced the judge’s ruling and vowed to appeal the decision. They repeated the lie that stop-and-frisk “makes New Yorkers safe.” These Wall Street representatives called the judge incompetent, dismissed the mountains of evidence, and once again dismissed the righteous anger of Black, Latino/a, Asian, Arab, Indigenous and white New Yorkers.

Bloomberg recently vetoed the Community Safety Act, a measure passed by the City Council to curb the worst stop-and-frisk abuses. It remains to be seen if the council will successfully overturn his veto.

‘I could have been Trayvon’

The Center for Constitutional Rights, which brought the class-action lawsuit, hosted a news conference simultaneous with Bloomberg and Kelly’s diatribe. The attorneys who worked on the case were joined by plaintiffs, witnesses and community organizers against police brutality, who spoke about the significance of the case.

Lead attorney Darius Charney of CCR thanked the plaintiffs and witnesses for their courage in coming forward. He said it was the tireless work of grassroots organizations, including the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Communities United for Police Reform and the Justice Committee, that had made the victory possible.

CCR attorney Sunita Patel called the ruling “a victory for all New Yorkers.”

Several plaintiffs and witnesses spoke. Each has been subject to stop-and-frisk by the NYPD. Recalling his experience, Devin Almonar said, “I could have been Trayvon Martin.”

Nicholas Peart explained that “stop-and-frisk is the lowest level of harassment” faced by Black and Latino New Yorkers, often leading to frame-ups, imprisonment, police brutality and even death by cop.

Other speakers included Djibril Toure, of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement; Priscilla Gonzalez, of Communities United for Police Reform; and City Councilmember Jumaane Williams, who was himself stopped, frisked and arrested at the 2011 West Indian Day Parade.

While each gave a unique perspective on the ruling, all agreed that it was just the beginning of a long struggle for real change.

The Floyd decision reflects — and is a result of — the growing mass anger across the U.S. over the lynching of Trayvon Martin; the police lynchings of Ramarley Graham, Shantel Davis, Oscar Grant, Alan Blueford, Shaaliver Douse and countless others; and the mass incarceration of millions of young workers and poor people faced with a capitalist system that denies them jobs, education, health care and housing.

Asked by a reporter if the Bloomberg administration could implement the ordered changes, CCR Executive Director Vince Warren said, “This administration has created bike lanes throughout the city and is waging a major campaign to ban big sodas. If they can put that effort into bike lanes and big sodas, then they can make the necessary changes to stop the unconstitutional harassment of millions of New Yorkers.”