NEW YORK, United States, Monday May 6, 2013 – A United States federal civil rights lawsuit claims that New York City police officers routinely stop Caribbean immigrants without cause and then charge them with low-level misdemeanors when their pockets are emptied and small amounts of marijuana are found.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of five Bronx men in United States District Court for the Southern District in Manhattan, also claims that the amount of marijuana found on the men would have amounted to little more than non-criminal violations punishable by a fine of up to US$100 for first-time offenders.
But the lawsuit, which also claims that black and Latino men were subjected to the searches, alleges that the charging officers falsely claimed the marijuana was in public view, making it a low-level misdemeanor under Section 221.10 of the New York Penal Code, which allows for sentences of up to three months in jail.
Critics of the New York Police Department (NYPD) say the practice, described as “manufactured misdemeanors,” is rampant.
They say the arrests are often a result of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk programme, which is being challenged in US federal court for, among other things, disproportionately targeting Caribbean and other minority men.
The lawsuit names New York City, the NYPD, and several officers and supervisors as defendants.
It was filed by the Bronx Defenders which represents low-income defendants.
A similar lawsuit filed by New York’s Legal Aid Society is pending in New York State court in Manhattan.
NYPD data show that police charged more than 50,000 people with marijuana misdemeanors in 2011, of which more than 84 percent were minorities.
The lawsuit contends that although state law calls for misdemeanor cases to be tried within 60 days, the time limits are seldom met.
The suit comes as Police Commissioner Raymond Keller credited the controversial stop-and-frisk tactic for helping to push New York’s crime rate to record lows.
Kelly has defended his department’s use of the crime-fighting tool, blasting critics who say it targets a disproportionate number of Caribbean and other minorities.
“The stark reality is that crime happens in communities of colour. About 70 to 75 percent of the people described as committing violent crimes, assault, robbery, shootings, grand larceny are described as being African-American.
“The percentage of people who are stopped is 53 percent African-American. So really, African-Americans are being under-stopped in relation to the percentage of people being described as being the perpetrators of violent crime,” he said on television that also discussed the fatal shooting of Caribbean youth Kimani Gray, 16, by police in March and featured comments by Grenadian American Councilman Jumaane Williams, a frequent stop-and-frisk critic.
New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, two other Democratic contenders, have also been vocal in their support for a bill that would create an inspector general to oversee the NYPD.
The federal class-action lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights against stop-and-frisk has entered its seventh week of trial. The trial is expected to conclude on May 16.