In New York City, the epicenter of racialized police violence against communities of color, the practice of stop and frisks is in the spotlight again with the Floyd v. the City of New York trial. The trial is named after a member of a local grassroots organization, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, that has been fighting police brutality for years, David Floyd. The trial is considered a pivotal legal challenge to the New York City Police Department practice that has stopped millions of people in the name of getting guns off the streets. The NYPD insists that the practice is essential to maintain public safety but data shows that of the about 4.4 million people stopped and detained from 2004 to June 30, 2012, only one-tenth of 1% of those stops resulted in firearm confiscation. That means that nine out of ten people stopped were innocent according to the NYPD’s own statistics.
Last week in the trial it was revealed that the policy is more than applying the theory of “broken windows”, that is stopping low level crime so that it does not escalate into higher level crime, is less about safer streets in communities of color, overwhelmingly impacted by gun violence, and more about terrorizing residents of those communities. 90 percent of those stopped are Black and Latino, even though these two groups make up only 52 percent of the city’s population.
According to the testimony of State Senator Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn), himself a former NYPD officer, in a 2012 meeting Police Commissioner Ray Kelly “…stated that he targeted and focused on that group [Blacks and Latinos] because he wanted to instill fear in them that every time that they left their homes they could be targeted by police.”
This is not the first time that that practice of stop and frisk is under legal scrutiny. In 2002, Daniels v. the City of New York was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). Via a 2003 settlement, the infamous Street Crimes Unit, the unit behind the 1999 Bronx shooting death of unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo, was disbanded. Diallo’s death sparked a resurgence in the anti-police brutality movement in New York City with the founding of People’s Justice, a multi-racial and multi-gendered coalition of organizations fighting for community control and police accountability. Floyd v. the City of New York was filed based on what the CCR is calling non-compliance on the part of the NYPD of the Daniels settlement.
Earlier this year, Manhattan Federal Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ordered police to refrain from making some trespass stops outside private residential buildings, declaring the practice unconstitutional but that hasn’t stopped the practice. While the trial and controversy continues, stop and frisk is spreading throughout the country, with former New York City Mayor Giuliani’s former police commissioner, William Bratton spearheading the effort. Bratton, who also ran the Los Angeles Police Department for some time, now wants the practice to be implemented in Oakland. Under Bratton’s watch in New York City in the late 1990s, people of color communities in New York City saw in increase in police brutality with cases like that of Abner Louima and Anthony Baez making national headlines.
Floyd v. the City of New York argues that stop and frisk policies violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. What remains to be seen as more testimony and data come out, is if the culture of racist policing in New York City can be stopped via a combination of legal and grassroots strategies. It’s a question that communities in New York City, especially families of those lost to police violence, have been seeking an answer to for decades.
The Center for Constitutional Rights has daily trial updates on its blog. For example, additional tapes of roll calls and conversations were introduced into evidence and revealed that police are pushed to meet stop and frisk quotas. Testimony this week by police officers confirmed that they were subject to ““performance objectives” or “performance goals.” Officially, the NYPD claims to not have quotas.