A potentially history-making trial is in its fourth week in federal court in lower Manhattan, as Judge Shira Scheindlin hears testimony from both sides of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk practice: the officers doing the stopping, and the New Yorkers they're frisking.
In previous weeks, Scheindlin heard testimony from a suspended police officer, Adhyl Polanco, and listened to secretly-recorded tapes made by a former Brooklyn officer, both apparently indicating a quota system or, at minimum, informal pressure from superiors to increase stops, arrests, and summonses.
The judge heard from Cornelio McDonald today, a New Yorker who had experienced a stop-and-frisk, as well as one of the officers who stopped him, Edward French.
Cornelio McDonald spent most of the day on December 18, 2009 caring for his mother — feeding her, helping her shower, fixing up the house, he said — at her apartment across the street from his own home in Fresh Meadows, Queens. He left around 1 a.m., and as he weaved between cars parked alongside the median dividing the two lanes of Parsons Boulevard, an unmarked red van a little ways away pulled a U-turn and stopped in front of him. When the occupants demanded to know where he was coming from, McDonald, feeling "trapped" between two parked cars and the van in front of him, replied, "What are you stopping me for?"
When Scheindlin asked if the police ever told him why they got out of the van and patted him down, McDonald said they never mentioned the "suspicious bulge" French later described.
Scheindlin persisted, "They didn't give you any reason?"
"They said it was to protect themselves," he said.
Pressed by attorneys as to how the stop made him feel, he replied, "Embarassed. Ashamed."
By McDonald's account, he was stopped for no other reason than his race.
According to French, Mc Donald appeared suspicious because he was walking with his hands in his coat pockets, pressed to his body. McDonald asserted that he was trying to keep warm on a 20 or 30 degree December night.
The city pointed to other lawsuits in which McDonald alleged racial bias, including one against the U.S. Postal Service, accusing them of job discrimination after he was fired.
"It's not the first time you believed a government entity has discriminated against you for your race, correct?" a city attorney asked.
After questioning how McDonald moved his body between his cars, and whether or not his responding to the stopped van with "why are you stopping me" meant he knew the plainclothes occupants were police, the city had one last question.
"Is it true you consider every interaction with a police officer a stop? You consider it a stop every time an officer says hello?" the attorney asked.
"Yes," he responded without hesitation.
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