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Joining the Fight to End Stop and Frisk in New York City

Jenn Rolnick Borchetta

Yesterday, the federal court in New York appointed Demos co-class counsel in Floyd v. the City of New York, the landmark case challenging the NYPD’s use of the stop and frisk tactic. We now represent the thousands of mostly Black and Latino pedestrians who have been or will be unlawfully stopped by the NYPD.

Before becoming Counsel at Demos, I spent years representing the plaintiffs in Floyd. I played a key role on the Floyd legal team, spearheaded by the Center for Constitutional Rights, and we won the trial and proved the practice was unconstitutional racial profiling in August 2013.

But winning the trial was only half the battle.

Racial discrimination in policing undermines democracy. It engenders within the targeted community a sense of powerlessness: Black lives don’t matter, and so too Black voices don’t matter. Unlawful police practices lead to decreased civic and democratic engagement among those most affected.

You can almost see the fabric of democracy unraveling during unjust police encounters. Black and Latino people who protest unfair police targeting often face charges for disorderly conduct, obstruction of governmental administration, and resisting arrest.

I had one African American client who was unlawfully stopped and frisked and he asked the officers their reason for doing this, protesting that he had done nothing wrong. The police in response threw him through the glass wall of a bank.

He was just 18 years old.

While the numbers of recorded stops decreased following the Floyd trial, this is at least in part because the NYPD instructed officers not to record all stops conducted and the police unions told officers they would be subject to lawsuits if they conducted them. The NYPD’s stop and frisk practice remains in need of extensive repair.

When the Floyd plaintiffs won the trial, the court ordered the NYPD to reform its stop and frisk practice and to incorporate into those reforms input from people in the community most affected by unconstitutional stops – that is, Black and Latino people and people in neighborhoods with predominantly Black and Latino residents. This all was on hold until recently.

The Floyd reform process is now getting underway, and it offers a rare opportunity for the people of New York City to have a direct voice in changing the NYPD. For communities that have spent more than a decade facing almost daily racial profiling in streets stops, this opportunity could be transformative.

Along with lead counsel the Center for Constitutional Rights and co-counsel Beldock Levine & Hoffman LLP and Covington & Burling LLP, Demos will help drive this critical reform and restore democracy on the streets of New York.