Fighting crime in New York City—like in any large metropolis—comes with many challenges. There are more than eight million residents in the five boroughs, and many hundreds of thousands more people travel to and through the city each day. In contrast, the police department employs only about thirty-four thousand uniformed officers. A department so outnumbered is bound to make mistakes—crimes go unsolved, innocent people are falsely accused, criminals remain unpunished.
And while many New Yorkers conduct their days without interference from police officers, the relationship between law enforcement and communities that the N.Y.P.D. has determined contain high concentrations of crime—thus requiring a heightened police presence—is a complicated, quarrelsome one. In Brooklyn’s East Flatbush neighborhood, demonstrations that have been alternately prayerful and violent continue two weeks after two officers fatally shot sixteen-year-old Kimani Gray, who they contend drew his gun first. While the investigation into Gray’s killing continues, and while his family and the community work through their grief, the policy that arguably led indirectly to his death—a policy that Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have vigorously enforced and defended—is facing a serious challenge in court.
The plaintiffs in Floyd v. City of New York, a class-action lawsuit regarding the N.Y.P.D.’s stop-and-frisk practices that went to trial last week, contend that stop-and-frisk practices violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. But that’s the legal wording. In a press briefing a few days before the trial began, David Ourlicht, one of the four named plaintiffs, put the violations he feels into more everyday terms:
I don’t have to walk outside and have that thought in the back of my mind: “This time will they shoot me or will I get beat up? Will I go to jail for something I didn’t do?” I want to be able to move on and not have to feel that. I don’t want my friends to have to feel that anymore. I don’t want my—when I have kids, I don’t want them to feel that.