More than 100 witnesses in New York, including scholars, police and lawmakers are expected to testify at a federal trial about a controversial New York police department practice.
The practice is known as “stop and frisk.” The trial began on Monday, March 18.
Police say they must have the ability to stop people randomly if there is something suspicious about them.
Critics say that suspicion is too often based on race, targeting young African American and Latino men.
A dozen people who say they were stopped because of their race are scheduled to testify at the trial. The suit against the nation’s largest police department is seeking to have a court-appointed monitor oversee changes to the practice.
The New York Civil Liberties Union says that in 2012, more than 530,000 people were stopped by the police and 89 percent were “totally innocent.”
NYCLU says of those stopped, 55 percent were African American, 32 percent were Latino and 10 percent were white.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly say stop and frisk is a necessary, life-saving, crime-fighting tool that helps keep illegal guns off the street and has helped New York achieve low crime rates.
On Tuesday, March 19, a 24-year-old nonprofit worker wept on the witness stand during the trial as he described an unnerving episode of being handcuffed near his home while a police officer took his keys and went inside his building.
Nicholas Pert, who is black, is one of about a dozen New Yorkers expected to tell their stories of being stopped, questioned and frisked by police in a federal trial challenging how police use the tactic. The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of some of the stops, with lawyers arguing the policy unfairly targets minorities.
City attorneys said officers operate within the law and do not target people solely because of their race. Police go where the crime is — and crime is overwhelmingly in minority neighborhoods, city lawyers said.
Pert’s mother died of cancer, and he is the guardian for his three siblings, two small boys and his disabled 20-year-old sister. The stocky community college graduate testified that he was stopped three times, starting on his 18th birthday.