March 18, 2013 -- Monday marks the start date of a major class action lawsuit, in which dozens of officers, lawmakers, scholars, and alleged victims are expected to testify about the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy.
Stop-and-frisk, which allows police to conduct random pat-downs of those they deem suspicious, has been called discriminatory by a number of civil rights groups, including the NAACP and NYCLU, who say black and Hispanic men are targeted disproportionately due to their race. The overwhelming majority of stops in New York City involve minorities (84 percent in 2011), and 9 out of 10 stops made last year did not lead to an arrest or a summons.
Still, the NYPD and its supporters says stop-and-frisk is an effective crime-fighting tool and a means of getting illegal guns and drugs off the street. Heather MacDonald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, defends the policy, calling it the lesser of two evils.
"The police don't make deployments based on population or race. They make deployments based on crime," she told NPR.
Whether or not the stop-and-frisk policy has contributed to reduced crime rates is up for debate, as crime rates have fallen in many big cities that don't employ the policy. There were 531,159 people stopped in 2012, five times the number of stops made a decade ago when Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office. There were also only 419 murders last year -- the lowest number since at least the 1960's.
As other cities, like Oakland, California consider establishing stop-and-frisk-like policies, New York City's ruling on the issue could have implications for the spread of the practice on a national level.
Some who have experienced the stop-and-frisk policy first hand, describe it as discriminatory and degrading. A dozen plaintiffs who say they were targeted under the policy due to their race are expected to testify in coming weeks.
One of the plaintiffs is 25-year old David Ourlicht, who says he's been targeted multiple times without due cause.
[They] threw me up against the wall, took everything out of my pockets, threw it on the floor, dumped my bag on the floor, my books and everything," Ourlicht told NPR. "I had the guns to the back of my head. Like, I didn't want to look up or move because there were so many guns drawn. It's scary."