Stop-and-Frisk on Trial Again in Queens

June 9, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |



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The ten week federal civil lawsuit against the NYPD's practice of stop-and-frisk, Floyd v. City of New York, ended last Monday. We learned much about the quotas, racism, and cynical operations of the NYPD—but it all added up to what many people already knew. Stop-and-frisk is racist, unconstitutional and unjust.

The next day another trial of stop-and-frisk began in Queens, when four more freedom fighters were brought to stand trial for protesting at the capital of stop-and-frisk, the 103rd Precinct in Jamaica. On November 19, 2011, twenty people were arrested for standing outside the precinct doors, demanding an end to stop-and-frisk, and specifically in that precinct, which has the second highest number of illegal stops in the city. It's the precinct where NYPD killed Sean Bell in 2005, and where there's been intense harassment of trans people.

It’s outrageous that Greg Allen, Noche Diaz, Ribka Getachew and Matt Swaye are even on trial. For 18 months, the District Attorney has refused to drop two counts of Obstruction of Government Administration against 13 people, even when the first group of four was found not guilty by a jury last November. Prosecutors are bringing the same evidence, but say they hope to get a different outcome with another jury.

It took two full days to get a six person jury and two alternates selected. So many people in the jury pool expressed opinions against stop-and-frisk that the prosecution was able to have some excluded for cause, because they said they wouldn't be able to listen to police officers and believe them. Others who spoke out against stop-and-frisk, or had negative experiences with the NYPD, but said they could still be fair and unbiased in this case, were excluded when the prosecutor used pre-emptive challenges to exclude them.

Of the last people in the jury pool to be questioned, four openly expressed opposition to stop-and-frisk. A young sister said she had been to protests against police brutality, and protested when Kimani Gray was murdered by the NYPD a couple months ago. She told one of those wrenching stories that breaks your heart about being abused as a child, going to court to testify against her abuser, and the prosecution not getting her abuser convicted. A young man had friends who had been arrested during Occupy Wall Street when the police led protesters into a place, then busted them. He didn't believe the police. A human resources manager quoted statistics on stop-and-frisk, and said, "I believe it's biased, and there is not evidence it stops crimes. Over 90% of the people stopped were doing nothing wrong, and they are almost all Black and Latino. I think they should do stop-and-frisk on the Upper East Side (a wealthy area in Manhattan.)

The potential juror questioned the most was a 40 year old African American train conductor. He told of being stopped "many" times by the NYPD driving to work at night. Our lawyer asked, "how many times have you been stopped?" The court room—except for the prosecutors—erupted in laughter when he said, "you mean this year? I really couldn't even tell you." He went on to say that his brothers, cousins, son, son's friends are all stopped a lot.” And I do not know why. We are all working, going about our business. We have no records." He said that he lives in what is called a "high crime area," and it turned out to be the 103rd Precinct. He said that stop-and-frisk does not do any good, and he doesn't like it.

We ended up with a jury of people born in Queens, and all over the world, who say they don't have an opinion about stop-and-frisk, with one alternate believing that it's a good practice which she is sure lowers crime, although she cannot cite how. These jurors say they have never been involved in protest. The prosecutor, who stipulated there was no violence from the protesters, is building his case on the fact that one could protest, even for a good cause, and still break the law.

Attorneys Mani Tafari, Martin Stolar, Thomas Hillgardner and Daria Aumond will argue that no laws were broken, and in fact the protesters were led, by NYPD officers, into a barricaded zone in front of the 103rd, and then arrested when they made a protest in front of the door. The defendants will testify about why they protested stop-and-frisk.

The trial begins Tuesday, May 28, and is expected to go three or four days. Trial support makes a big difference in front of a jury. Join us 9:30 am Room K-15 at Queens Criminal Court. 125-01 Queens Blvd. E/F train to Kew Gardens/Union Turnpike.


"An Event of This Magnitude:" NYPD on stop-and-frisk protest


It was either the District Attorney, or Inspector McEvoy of the 103rd Precinct, discussing NYPD preparations for the protest November 19, 2011, when 20 people were arrested for standing in front of the precinct door, who referenced the need for so many police for "an event of this magnitude." McEvoy's been in command of the precinct for years, but this was his first time to manage a protest at the precinct. He had NYPD officers from Queens South Task Force, who during that time were very busy running after and corralling Occupy Wall Street activists; borrowed Community Affairs officers from Boro Command, and some of his own.

McEvoy's testimony is the heart of the state's case against our four defendants, Greg Allen, Noche Diaz, Ribka Getachew and Matt Swaye. The District Attorney has a problem, though, because McEvoy testified in November at the first trial of freedom fighters in this case, and the jury didn't believe his testimony that the business of the precinct had been obstructed by the protest. McEvoy testified today that, despite all these cops, and despite having barricaded a whole city block to traffic and pedestrians, he had no plan for using a side entrance, or escorting cops arriving for their 3:00 pm shift past protesters who stood for about seven minutes below the steps to the main entrance of the precinct. The state claims roll call for that shift was late, constituting the two obstruction of government administration charges, which carry a possible twelve months at Rikers.

This misdemeanor trial is going into its seventh day, and is likely to continue until next week. Many people have asked why the state is putting so much into prosecuting 13 people on these charges. It became more clear today that the NYPD and the District Attorney consider the wave of stop-and-frisk protests which began in fall 2011 to be on an order of magnitude that demands suppression. Noche Diaz recalled this week, "When we were arrested at the 103rd precinct, the charges that were brought against us was an escalation and part of trying to punish people who stood up to stop and frisk, including with jail time."

The multi-national jury of Queens residents was not very engaged while four police officers testified. But today, we saw them get more interested as the defense's case began. Carl Dix, as a main organizer of the protest in his role as co-initiator with Cornel West of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, testified for the defense, describing the outreach and political message—at least as much as he was allowed by the judge to do so—of the protest rally and march, which began at Rufus King Park in Jamaica Queens, and continued through heavy pedestrian crowds to the 103rd. Yes, he told the DA who accused him of leading people to intentionally block doors at the precinct, we wanted to be in front of the doors; yes, we intended to deliver a political message; yes, we knew we were risking arrest. But, being arrested, he reminded the jury, does not necessarily mean you have done a crime. The D.A. got flustered. You don't want to go one on one in an argument like this with Carl Dix.

Noche Diaz was the first defendant to take the stand. He said the protest "spoke to my very being" as a 24 year old growing up in The Bronx who had been very frequently stopped and frisked by the police. "I thought this was a humiliation I would have to go through" until he learned about protest against these abuses, and joined them. Noche was so direct and honest in his answers to the DA, and when the judge questioned him, that the basic immorality of NYPD abuse came through in spite of the DA's objections.

Ribka Getachew talked about her college activism at Columbia University against mass incarceration, again, at least as much as she was allowed. She said she "had" to be at the protest in Queens, and yes, she did speak out, and step forward to go to the steps of the precinct.

That's where we left off today. The defense will continue tomorrow, but the jury probably will not get the case for deliberations until Monday.


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