Major Stop and Frisk Trial Begins: Harlem Mom Takes 14-year-old Son to Watch Opening Statements
In the overflow room set up for the much anticipated trial over the city's stop and frisk campaign, we came across two unexpected courtroom observers: a mom from Harlem and her 14-year-old son.
Iusaset Bakr tells the Voice that she took her Jaihdow Kwantu out of school for the day and brought him to the opening of the trial in Floyd v. City of New York to educate him about police tactics in minority neighborhoods.
"I made a decision so that he could be equipped with the information," she says. "I wanted him to witness it for himself because he needs to be aware of what's happening and of what his rights are. This is happening so much that the children seem to think it's okay, when it's not okay."
Jaihdow tells the Voice that even at his young age, he has already been stopped twice by police in his neighborhood. One time, he says it was for playfully chasing a friend of his with a ruler. "I just wanted to see first hand what's happening," he says.
In Floyd, a class action lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that the stop and frisk campaign has violated the rights of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, and is racially biased. The city contends that the stop correspond directly to where crime is taking place. If the city loses, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin could order a monitor to oversee the NYPD--a move that would be almost unprecedented.
In their opening statements, Darius Charney, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights, noted that 85 percent of those stopped were black and Latino, while the citywide population for those groups is just 50 percent. Nine of 10 stops resulted in no charges. There has been a "deliberately indifferent failure" by the NYPD to stop "unconstitutional behavior."
The city's lawyers, meanwhile, spent quite a bit of time attacking academic research underpinning the allegation that there is a racial bias in the stops. That research was done by Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Fagan. "The results are biased and unreliable," a city attorney told the court.
Outside court, during the lunch break, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said the city is rationalizing a racially biased program he likened to banks' historic practice of red-lining--that is, refusing to loan in low income, high minority areas. "This is a national crisis," he says. "They are trying to justify, not deny, but it's it's unfair, and we want an even playing field."
The first witness to testify was 16-year-old Devin Almonor, a West Harlem resident who aspires to a career in medicine and whose father is a retired 12-year veteran of the NYPD. When he was just 13, Almonor was stopped in 2010 while crossing a street near his home by two cops in an unmarked vehicle.
"They kept asking me how old I was, and for my ID," he testified. "They put me against their car and started patting my down in front of everyone. They handcuffed me and took me to the station without telling me why. I was crying. One of the officers told me I was crying like a little girl, and said if my dad was a cop, he should just come and get me."
The second witness, David Floyd, a 33-year-old graduate of Syracuse University now studying medicine, testified that he was stopped twice. He described the stops as "frustrating and humiliating." The city's lawyer, Morgan Kunz, tried to portray Floyd as an activist.
The trial picks up again this morning with the rest of Floyd's testimony, and a likely appearance by Adhyll Polanco, a whistleblowing police officer who is expected to testify that he refused to keep performing illegal stops because they were tied to quotas, and harmed young black and hispanic men.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.