A civil rights trial on whether or not the NYPD’s “Stop and Frisk” practice unfairly targets minorities is set to begin in federal court on Monday.
The practice of stopping, questioning and frisking people on New York’s streets is facing the biggest legal challenge since it first became an integral part of the city’s law enforcement, under then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, back in 1990.
About 5 million stops have been made by police over the past decade. Most of the stops have been black and Hispanic men.
"When we say stop, question and frisk, we're not talking about a brief inconvenience on the way to work or school," said the lead attorney on the case, Darius Charney of the Center for Constitutional Rights, "We're talking about a frightening, humiliating experience that has happened to many folks."
The trial will include testimony from a dozen people who say they were targeted by police because of their race and from police whistleblowers who say their bosses were too focused on numbers, so they were forced into making slipshod stops, according to reports by ABC news.
U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin who will be hearing the case, is not being asked to ban the tactic which has been found to be legal. She has said in earlier rulings that she is deeply concerned about stop and frisk, and she does have the power to order reforms which could bring substantial changes to how the police force and other departments use stop and frisk.
Street stops have become a source of fiery contention, with mass demonstrations, City Council hearings, and most recently, days of protests after police shot a teenager who authorities say pulled a gun out during a stop and frisk incident.
Mayor Bloomberg and NYPD Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly say it is a crime-fighting tool that keeps illegal guns off the street and has helped New York reduce it’s crime rates. Stops have risen and crime rates have dropped dramatically since the 1990’s when there were 2,000 murders recorded. Only 419 murders were recorded in 2012.
The number of stops are more than five times the number when Bloomberg took office ten years ago and 51% of those stopped were black, in a city where the census figures show only 26% of the 8.2 million people in the city are black, and 28% are Hispanic. Half of the people stopped are just questioned and only 10% of all the stops result in arrest. Weapons are only recovered a fraction of the time.
The case was originally filed in 2008 on behalf of David Floyd who said he was stopped and harassed at least twice by police and that they had no reason to stop him, as he was simply walking home or outside of his apartment. It has since become a class-action lawsuit on behalf of everyone who may have been wrongly stopped by police. The suit is requesting both broad reforms as well as a court-appointed monitor to oversee the changes.
The trial is expected to last more than a month and include over 100 witnesses.