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Stop-and-frisk subjects testify as trial begins

Demonstrators hold a rally in Foley Square on

Demonstrators hold a rally in Foley Square on the first day of the trial against the City of New York over the NYPD's Stop and Frisk policy in Manhattan. The plaintiffs charge that the NYPD use racial profiling while stoping and frisking people. (March 18, 2013). Credit: Charles Eckert

A black medical student testified that he was "frustrated and humiliated" by two stop-and-frisk encounters with New York police as a closely watched trial over the tactic began Monday in federal court in Manhattan.

"I'm not a criminal, I didn't commit any criminal acts and therefore I should not have been detained at any point in time," said plaintiff David Floyd, 33. "Police officers are individuals carrying weapons and if they're not responsible, it makes a dangerous situation."

Floyd's description of incidents in 2007 and 2008 highlighted testimony on the first day of a class-action trial in which U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin is considering whether to rule the NYPD's controversial use of stop-and-frisk violates the Constitution.

The NYPD conducted more than 1.1 million stops during the past two years. The Supreme Court said the stops are permitted when there is "reasonable suspicion" a crime is afoot. In the city, minorities are targeted 84 percent of the time, and only one in 10 stops produces an arrest or summons.

Before a packed courtroom that included civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, the two sides Monday traded well-rehearsed charges in opening arguments. The plaintiffs said the NYPD had "laid siege" to minority neighborhoods, while the city said crime rates drive use of the tactic.

"Crime drives where police officers go, not race," said city lawyer Heidi Grossman.

Floyd, who is now attending medical school in Havana, said he was stopped in 2007 while he was walking to his Bronx home from the subway, and then one morning in 2008 outside his house while he was helping a fellow renter try to unlock the door to his apartment.

Police claimed there had been a pattern of burglaries, Floyd said, but he felt invaded. "Because it was on the property I paid rent on, it seemed like I was being told I should not leave my home," he testified. On cross-examination, he acknowledged he was a longtime "activist" on police issues.

Floyd was preceded on the witness stand by Devin Almonor, 16, who described a stop in 2010, when he was 13 and had just walked a friend visiting his home on Riverside Drive to a bus stop. The stop occurred at night, between 8 and 10 p.m.

He said he wasn't told why he was stopped, and when police patted him down to check out a cellphone that made a bulge in his pocket he began to cry. "I didn't know what was going on," he said.

One of the officers mocked him for "crying like a little girl," Almonor testified.

In addition to individuals who underwent stops, the plaintiffs are expected to present testimony from police "whistle-blower" witnesses to show that the high number of stops is a result of a quota system used by precinct commanders to show they are policing aggressively.

Testimony continues Tuesday.

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