Hands Off!: Black community responds to U.S. District Court ruling of NYPD's "Clean Halls" as unconstitutional

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 4/11/2013, 4:21 p.m.

Could this be the first step to eliminating "stop and frisk?"

On Tuesday morning, a U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge ruled that the New York Police Department's "Clean Halls Program" violated the constitutional rights of New York City residents. According to Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, for years the NYPD should have known (or already knew) that its officers had routinely violated constitutional rights through the Clean Halls. Scheindlin said that the NYPD failed to properly train officers about when it was legal to make trespass stops.

Tuesday's rulings comes as part of a class-action lawsuit filed last March by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), The Bronx Defenders, LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the law firm of Shearman & Sterling LLP, which challenged the city's enforcement of "Clean Halls," which itself is a part of the department's "stop and frisk" program.

"The Latino and African-American communities have something to cheer about today as Judge Shira Scheindlin recognized what our communities have long known: The NYPD routinely stops people of color without any reasonable basis, as we have demonstrated they do in front of Clean Halls buildings," said Juan Cartagena, president of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, in a state,emt. "We now begin the process of ending these unlawful practices so that all New Yorkers, regardless of their color, may feel free to walk the streets of their city without the constant fear of being stopped without cause."

Scheindlin also ordered that the NYPD to cease its trespass stops outside of Clean Halls buildings immediately and outlined training remedies that she would want the department to enforce after another court hearing in two months.

But the NYPD has already come out in defense of Clean Halls. In an email sent to the AmNews, an NYPD spokesperson wanted to make clear that this is "not a stop and frisk ruling" and then provided a statement from Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

"Some take for granted the safety provided by doormen who routinely challenge visitors to their apartment buildings," said Kelly. "Through 'Clean Halls,' the police have worked to provide a modicum of safety for less prosperous tenants. Their landlords explicitly requested this extra level of protection. The NYPD is fully committed to doing so in a manner that respects the constitutional rights of residents and visitors. Today's decision unnecessarily interferes with the Department's efforts to use all of the crime fighting tools necessary to keep Clean Halls buildings safe and secure."

In the same email, the spokesperson listed three arrests between October 2012 to December of 2012 that were a results of tactics used in the Clean Halls Program.

Joo-Hyun Kang, from the organization Communities United for Police Reform (CPR), said that this ruling should be a wake-up call to commissioner Kelly and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"Today's ruling confirms what New Yorkers across this city have repeatedly been expressing: Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly's continued defense of discriminatory NYPD practices has shown an unacceptable disregard for the civil rights of New Yorkers. It is unfortunate that our communities are forced to depend on the courts for accountability. This is just another example of why we need serious systemic reforms and the City Council should pass the Community Safety Act."