MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — The trial of nearly two dozen stop and frisk protesters began Monday almost as rowdily as the demonstration that led to their arrests.
The accused, including Princeton professor and long-time activist Cornel West, were joined by an army of supporters who jeered as they appeared on charges of disorderly conduct.
West and his co-defendants were arrested Oct. 21 as hundreds of people allegedly refused to clear the sidewalk outside a Harlem NYPD precinct station house where they were protesting. Video footage played in court on Monday morning showed West chanting 'we won't stop 'til we stop stop and frisk' as he was placed in handcuffs and led away.
"People set up in front of the precinct on a public sidewalk, rallying, speaking, holding up signs — classic first amendment stuff," defense attorney Martin Stolar said in his opening statements.
"In response to the symbolic blockage (of the station house), we got a symbolic arrest."
Prosecutors said the protesters' actions amounted to disorderly conduct, and that protesters should leave the morality of the NYPD's controversial stop and frisk policy to the courts.
"These 20 defendants made a conscious decision to be arrested to bring attention to a social issue," Assistant District Attorney Michelle Baer told the judge.
"They intended to block pedestrian traffic in front of the station house and each chose to defy an order to clear a path to the station house door. The defendants engaged in this conduct so that they would be arrested and ultimately to have this trial.
"While some might commend their decision (to be arrested), there simply exists no legal defense in this trial."
The trouble in the courtroom started even before the testimony began.
Judge Robert Mandelbaum ordered warrants for the arrest of several defendants who arrived late, including a pair of young women who walked in more than an hour after the hearing was set to start.
"We started extremely late because of the lateness of defendants," Mandelbaum said, before warning observers they would be ejected from the courtroom if they did not maintain strict silence throughout the preceedings.
Despite the disruptions, West said he was confident the protesters' message would be heard loud and clear.
"We want to keep the focus in this trial on our love for the young people who are being treated unjustly," he said.