The police department's stop and frisk policy is already a major issue in the race for mayor, but now its critics are taking the city to court over the practice and the case begins Monday. NY1's Josh Robin has the story.
It's a day Nicholas Peart can't forget.
Six and a half years ago, he was celebrating his eighteenth birthday with relatives on a street bench on an early August morning.
"Squad cars pull up on us and they demanded that we get on the ground," Peart said.
It was a stop and frisk. Peart said he was carrying no weapon or drugs.
He wasn't arrested. His lawyer Wednesday wouldn't detail what cops told him about why they had stopped him.
But Peart's feelings about the event are clear.
"I felt angry. I felt hopeless. I felt embarrassed," he said.
Police say the practice keeps crime low. They say officers do it courteously and under strict guidelines.
To those like Peart and others, it's humiliating, counter-productive and, they hope to prove, illegal.
Peart, a 24-year-old afterschool mentor, is part of a federal class-action lawsuit alleging stop and frisks discriminate against New Yorkers based on their race. They promise at the upcoming trial even police officers will testify to its unfairness.
"Stop and frisk is the practice of systemically stopping people without cause," Vincent Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a statement. "In particular stopping them because they're black and Latino."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has long heard the criticism about stop and frisk, but he says it saves lives.
"I understand that innocent people don't like to be stopped," Bloomberg said in February. "But innocent people don't like to be shot and killed, either."
Weapons were found 1 percent of the time during stops last year. The murder rate then was the lowest in 50 years.
"The Police Department focuses its efforts in areas where crime is highest. Minorities are overwhelmingly the victims of violent crime in New York City, and the neighborhoods in which they live demand and deserve the Police Department's attention," Celeste Koeleveld of the NYC Law Department said in a statement. "Police officers must be able to stop and question people who act suspiciously in order to do their jobs."
But those suing the city say crime fighting could improve even more because those stopped can emerge unlikely to want to help police.
"It definitely brings a feeling of distrust," Peart said.