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Court Blocks NYC's Attempt to Halt the Lawsuit Against Stop and Frisk

The suit against the NYPD's racially discriminatory policy will now proceed unhindered.
 
 
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Wednesday, a federal court denied New York City’s attempt to appeal the lawsuit against the New York Police Department’s Stop and Frisk policy. The decision allows the case to proceed unhindered at a time when organized opposition to the policy has reached a fevered pitch and a new bill introduced in the state legislature Wednesday seeks to create an independent inspector generalto oversee the NYPD.
 
“It’s very exciting news and couldn’t be coming at a better time, when it seems we have all the momentum on our side,” said Jen Nessel, the communications director for the Center for Constitutional Rights.
 
The federal class action lawsuit, Floyd vs. City of New York, was first filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights in 2008 on behalf of four New Yorkers subjected to the NYPD’s stop and frisk program. The policy affected a staggering 686,000 people last year, with more than 80 percent of those stopped being black or Latino.
 
The suit is against both the NYPD and the City of New York, alleging that the police department’s policy is racially discriminatory and violates New Yorkers’ constitutional rights. The long-term goal of the lawsuit is to create a system of independent oversight for the NYPD--a demand that has been the focus of numerous pieces of legislation over the last decade, including the most recent bill.
 
Two years after its filing, the lawsuit gained glass-action status this past May.
 
“The vast majority of New Yorkers who are unlawfully stopped will never bring suit to vindicate their rights,” wrote Judge Scheindlin, the federal judge who granted the suit class-action status. She added that she was appalled by the city’s “deeply troubling apathy towards New Yorkers’ most fundamental constitutional rights.”
 
Following the May ruling, both the city and Stop and Frisk opponents began organizing fiercely. The city filed an appeal in efforts to block the lawsuit. Both Mayor Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly defended the policy, Kelly insisting that the stops are “a life-saving measure.”
 
The program, which began under former Mayor Giuliani, is ostensibly intended to get guns off the street, but data shows that less than 1 percent of the stops resulted in the recovery of a firearm.
 
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets in July for a three-hour silent march in Harlem to protest Stop and Frisk. The movement to film the police, known as Cop Watch, took off and a slew of cell phone camera-recorded videos of brutal and abusive police stops quickly went viral. 
 
Even police officers themselves began speaking out against 250s, the cop code for a random stop. In The Nation’s video documentary, released yesterday, a series of officers attested on the condition of anonymity to the top-down pressure to conduct the stop and frisks.
 
“The police department is, like, forcing us to do these unreasonable stops or we’ll be penalized,” said one of these officers.
 
At a protest and press conference outside City Hall Wednesday, dozens of City Council members spoke out against the policy and the need for an independent inspector general to monitor the NYPD’s activities. This has long been a demand of police reform activists, not only because of Stop and Frisk, but also because of the department’s unconstitutional spying on Muslims, the unprecedented cases of police brutality, the illegal approach to containing Occupy Wall Street and the dozens of other controversial practices of thelargest police force in the world.
 
"There's a general sense among many communities that what the police department is doing is unjust and unfair," said Councilman Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn at Wednesday’s press conference. "And I think they know there is no one that is looking over them."
 
With the appeal denied, the trial, Floyd vs. City of New York, is now scheduled to begin on March 18, 2013.

 

Laura Gottesdiener is a freelance journalist and the author of "A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home," forthcoming from Zuccotti Park Press.

 
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