New York City’s decade-long stop-and-frisk policy has prompted an ongoing class action lawsuit: Floyd v. City of New York.
The trial is now entering its sixth week and plaintiffs are hoping to bring changes to the controversial police tactic, which allows officers to stop and question individuals they reasonably suspect of criminal activity, and in some cases, to search those individuals for weapons and drugs.
While city and police officials have defended the policy as effective in reducing crime in the city, many in the city’s black and Hispanic communities disagree.
So far in the trial, several plaintiffs have given personal accounts of being stopped by NYPD officers – which some say also included being unreasonably searched. They argue that the practice has violated their constitutional and civil rights.
The Center for Constitutional Rights filed the lawsuit and says stop-and-frisk violates the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures and the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections against racially-discriminatory policing.
Nicholas Peart is among those who testified in court. He says he has been stopped between 5 and 10 times.
Peart tells theGrio that one stop-and-frisk incident that left him feeling “victimized and criminalized.”
A personal stop-and-frisk account
Peart, 24, was born and raised in New York. After his mother passed away in 2010, he was left as the sole guardian for his three younger siblings, now 12, 13, and 20 years old.
One evening in May of 2011, Peart says he was headed to the corner store, down the street from his home, wearing blue shorts and a t-shirt. A few moments later, he says police officers parked their car nearby, jumped out, and approached him.
“I was texting while I was walking and by the time I looked up an officer was in front of me,” he tells theGrio. “He took my phone, told me to put my hands against the wall, and then patted me down.”
From there, Peart says the officers asked for his ID, took his keys and asked which building he lived in. He complied, telling them which key opened the front entrance to his building and which key corresponded with his unit’s front door.
“Not only did he enter my building, but he went to my door. I know that because my younger sister called me later and told me,” he says.
Meanwhile, Peart says he was held outside and handcuffed by the other officer, who then ordered Peart to get into the backseat of their police cruiser.
“It was the first time I had ever felt cold handcuffs on my wrists,” he says.
From there, Peart says the officer asked if he was carrying marijuana, and proceeded to take off his sneakers. While one officer searched Peart’s clothing, the other returned from the apartment. After discovering that Peart was clean, the officers let him go, he says.
TheGrio has sent a request to NYPD officials for further comment on the stop-and-frisk trial and Nicholas Peart’s encounter. A response has not yet been given.
City officials defend stop and frisk
Despite complaints about the practice from community members who say they share similar experiences to Peart’s, city officials insist stop-and-frisk is an effective way of reducing crime.
Police say that they do not target specific people of color and instead have heavy presence in minority communities because that is often where crimes are reported.
Former New York Police Chief Joseph Esposito defended the controversial tactic on the witness stand, saying, “if there’s reasonable suspicion, there’s no racial profiling.” Esposito testified that although the number of stops have increased by almost 700 percent over the years, the number of crimes has dropped by forty percent.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been among the most vocal city leaders defending the policy at a speech he delivered at a Brooklyn Church.
According to an article in The New York Times, he said: “it is clearly a life-saving practice. The NYPD is preventing guns from being carried on our streets. That is our real goal — preventing violence before it occurs, not responding to the victims after the fact.”