Thursday, February 4, 2010

NYC Sued Over Unlawful and Discriminatory Policing in Public Housing


Davis v. City of New York

On January 28th, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), the Legal Aid Society (LAS), and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP (Paul Weiss) filed a class action lawsuit against the City of New York and the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) challenging the New York City Police Department’s reckless and unlawful practice of routinely subjecting NYCHA residents and their visitors to illegal stops and false arrests purportedly to enforce trespass laws.

The complaint asserts that NYPD officers indiscriminately stop and arrest people living in or visiting NYCHA residences. As a result, people who have a legitimate and lawful reason for being on NYCHA property are routinely detained and/or arrested for criminal trespass. Sometimes they even arrest residents in their own buildings. The consequences of these unfounded trespass arrests extend beyond the initial stop or arrest. They include loss of employment, income, missed medical appointments and separation of families.

“Our clients are New Yorkers stopped and arrested while trying to go about their everyday lives. They are visiting friends; dropping off children; or caring for elderly or sick relatives,” said Steven Banks, LAS Attorney-in-Chief. “NYCHA building residents do not surrender their rights when they sign a lease, and they should not be arrested and drive up the cost of the criminal justice system.”

Notably, these sweeps and checkpoints are only implemented in communities of color, such as NYCHA residences. As a result, New York City’s African-American and Latino residents bear the brunt of the NYPD’s unlawful activities. Indeed, evidence shows that, city-wide, African Americans are arrested for trespass almost ten times more often than whites. Furthermore, when the predominantly minority NYCHA residence is located in a mostly white or gentrifying neighborhood, the disparity in arrest rates between the building and the surrounding area increases.

“The effects of crime exact a particularly high toll on the city’s African-American and Latino residents, but the NYPD’s pattern of flagrant constitutional violations compounds rather than alleviates the communities’ injuries,” said John Payton, LDF President and Director-Counsel. “In our nation, there are some means of law enforcement which are simply not lawful.”

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York is asking the court to declare the City’s policies and practices unconstitutional and order that they be halted immediately, as well as award compensatory damages to the plaintiffs.

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