Last week, a historic trial challenging the NYPD’s practice of stopping and frisking almost exclusively people of color in New York City got underway. Allies of Communities United for Police Reform packed the courtroom and hundreds filled overflow rooms to watch the realities of life under the NYPD in their neighborhoods and city be brought to light in federal court.
The trial was, as described by plaintiff’s attorney Darius Charney, 14 years in the making, with its roots in challenges to the police department’s policies after the shooting of Amadou Diallo.
On Monday March 18, both sides presented their opening arguments, with the plaintiffs laying out the evidence to come showing that the NYPD has engaged in a longstanding pattern and practice of unconstitutional and race-based stops.
The central legal claims of the plaintiffs are (1) that the NYPD has a policy or practice of stopping people without the reasonable suspicion that the Fourth Amendment requires and (2) that the NYPD stops people on the basis of race in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and Title VI.
The evidence supporting these claims is too voluminous to cover here, but several particular pieces stood out. In a meeting with NY State Senator Eric Adams, NYPD Police Chief Ray Kelly said the stop and frisk policy was designed to make young black and latino men afraid that they would be stopped wherever they left their buildings, so that “they would leave their guns at home.”