Sarah Goodyear is a Brooklyn-based contributing writer to CityLab. She's written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog.
The NYPD's aggressive policy has come under increased scrutiny in recent months.
One night last July, Kaylan Pedine was standing outside the Mercury Lounge in Manhattan talking to a friend. According to her attorney, Mark Taylor, here’s what happened next: Two New York Police Department officers walked by, and after they passed, Pedine said to her friend, “I wish they would stop stop-and-frisk.” Taylor says the officers overheard what she said about the controversial NYPD tactic, "and in response handcuffed and arrested Ms. Pedine."
According to Taylor, his client was then brought to a local precinct, searched, held for about an hour before being released, and charged with disorderly conduct for blocking traffic. This week she filed a suit against the city in federal court charging violation of her civil rights in the incident.
As Taylor wrote in a press release announcing the suit, the charge against Pedine was quickly dismissed by a judge, "as the alleged conduct did not constitute a crime or violation of New York law." The attorney adds, "There’s no question that people should not be arrested for making comments."
Pedine had no intention of getting arrested that July night, although she does have a history as an activist, her lawyer says. But she now wants to make a point by bringing her case before a judge. Taylor says his client wants to bring further attention to an aggressive anti-crime policy that has come under increasing attack for unfairly targeting young minority residents of the city.
"Her preferred outcome would be to see changes in New York’s stop and frisk policy," says Taylor.
The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment in the case.
In 2011 and 2012, 87 percent of the people stopped under stop and frisk were black or Latino. The number of stops has skyrocketed under the Bloomberg administration, from about 100,000 in 2002 to a peak of 685,000 in 2011 (it declined to just over 533,000 in 2012). According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, a gun was found in 1.9 percent of the 2011 stops.
Stop and frisk has come under increasing scrutiny over the past year or two, and has been widely criticized for further polarizing the historically difficult relationship between police and young people of color. Earlier this week, when NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly made his annual budget-related appearance before the New York City Council, council members questioned him closely about stop and frisk, which the NYPD continues to justify as an effective way to get guns off the street.
"They know there are real legal issues," says Taylor. "Their defense seems to be that it works."
One component of the policy, "Clean Halls," in which the NYPD teamed up with landlords to stop suspected trespassers in private apartment buildings, was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in January. On March 18, a lawsuit challenging the city’s stop and frisk policy brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights will be heard by the same judge in a Manhattan federal court. It charges that stop and frisk as conducted today is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Meanwhile, on the streets of East Flatbush in Brooklyn, tension over stop and frisk has been erupting to the surface as hundreds of people have been gathering at night to protest the police shooting of Kimani Gray on March 9. According to police, Gray, 16, pointed a loaded gun at plainclothes officers who approached him. They fired 11 rounds, 7 of which struck Gray. He was killed. Protests over Gray’s death have included some violence and destruction of property, with 46 arrests resulting on the night of March 13.
Neighborhood residents interviewed by the New York Times described a climate in which people feel they could be stopped by police at any time, simply because of the way they look:
In interviews around East Flatbush, many spoke of a Police Department that, in its aggressive pursuit of gangs and informal criminal crews, had sown distrust, especially among young men and women, who feel that their encounters with officers often have racial overtones.
At a barbershop along Church Avenue, two men on Tuesday were discussing the recent shooting when an Asian delivery cyclist pulled onto the sidewalk across the street. “See that guy?” said Elverton Thomas, 39, a black man and telemarketer who was there for a haircut. “He can ride on the sidewalk. We can’t.”
His barber, Julian Clark, also black, concurred. Two years before, he said, an officer stopped him in front of the shop for sidewalk riding, and then arrested him after the officer said his identification had expired; he spent a day in custody sorting it out, he said.
“They have a hard time because there’s a lot of crime in the neighborhood,” he said of the police. “But when they play hardball, they end up going after innocent people, too.”
Kaylan Pedine’s attorney says that his client, who is white, hopes that her case will be a factor in bringing increased attention to the negative consequences of stop and frisk to people who might not otherwise think about it. “Far too many New Yorkers are willing to ignore it because of who they are or where they live,” says Taylor.
“There is a reason people say 'ignorance is bliss,'” said Pedine in a statement announcing her suit. "However, I want to be a voice that firmly says, 'Enough is enough.'"