MANHATTAN FEDERAL COURT — A trial on the NYPD's controversial stop-and-frisk policy began in Manhattan federal court on Monday.
The federal class-action lawsuit, filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, a human rights advocacy group, accuses the NYPD of violating citizens' rights by disproportionately stopping and frisking minorities.
The suit targets Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, as well as a number of police officers, accusing them of violating the Fourth Amendment and 14th Amendment rights of four plaintiffs, all of them black men. [The full complaint is available online.]
"We're putting the NYPD on trial, and the stakes are the constitutional rights of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers," said Vincent Warren, the director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, according to the New York Daily News.
The center originally filed the suit in 2008.
The Fourth Amendment guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, while the 14th Amendment prohibits states from denying any person life, liberty or property without due process and provides equal protection under the law for all citizens.
The primary plaintiff is David Floyd, 28, a medical student in The Bronx who said he was stopped twice for no reason, according to the suit.
The case is expected to last for more than a month and will call in cops, lawmakers and experts on the Constitution, as well as people who have been stopped and frisked by the NYPD, the News reported.
The Center for Constitutional Rights cites the NYPD's own figures, showing that Latinos and blacks make up more than 50 percent of people searched in most neighborhoods, and that, in 33 out of 76 precincts, they composed 90 percent of those subjected to searches.
And, as DNAinfo.com New York reported, since the mayor took office, the tactic's use skyrocketed 600 percent, but guns were no less prevalent on city streets, based on arrest figures.
Bloomberg and Kelly have defended the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy, saying crime is more pervasive in minority neighborhoods.
"This past week, with a city of 8.4 million people, we had one murder," Bloomberg said Monday. "I can't imagine any rational person saying that the techniques are not working and that we should stop them. We believe we do it consistent with the law in terms of having reasonable cause... We don't look at anybody's ethnicity. We go where the crimes are."
Celeste Koeleveld, the city's executive assistant corporation counsel for the police department, echoed his point.
"Police officers must be able to stop and question people who act suspiciously in order to do their jobs," she said in a statement last week.
"We will vigorously defend the city at trial."
Ultimately, the federal judge will not have the power to abolish stop-and-frisk, but the judge could institute reforms that would impact how the NYPD carries out the policy across all levels of policing, the News reported.