NYPD Pulls 5 Millionth Stop-and-Frisk: Will There Be Justice for Harassed Youths of Color?

A class action lawsuit raises hopes.

Yesterday marked the New York Police Department’s five millionth stop-and-frisk, the American Civil Liberties Union said in a grim announcement. The policing tactic has been widely criticized as unconstitutional harassment of youths of color, and anger over its misuse culminated in three days of protest against the NYPD’s shooting and killing of 16-year-old Kimani Gray. In demonstrations this week, residents of heavily policed East Flatbush, Brooklyn, where Gray was shot, said police relations have so deteriorated in the community that some youths wonder who might be next.

Next week, however, may mark the beginning of justice for New York’s stop-and-frisk victims. Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Vince Warren, who is suing the NYPD over stop-and-frisk, has called it “the trial of the century." If presiding judge Shira Schiendlin’s past remarks are any indication of what the outcome may be, the NYPD, Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Ray Kelly may be found guilty of 4th and 14th Amendment violations.

Young targets of stop-and-frisk and civil rights advocates say that police regularly ignore the law when conducting stop-and-frisk. The result is the near-daily illegal stop and search of youths in some neighborhoods, often in humiliating circumstances that include touching their genitals and emptying their backpacks. Stop-and-frisk is supposed to target the illegal possession of guns, but less than one percent of stops actually uncover a firearm, and almost 90% of them target blacks and Latinos. The tactic rose 600% under Mayor Bloomberg, from more than 97,000 stops during Bloomberg's first year in office to more than half a million last year. Until the practice is reined in, residents worry that police presumptions of criminality may lead to more dead kids.

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