Historic “Stop and Frisk” Case Tried by Alumna Sunita Patel ‘05

After more than a decade of use, the controversial “stop and frisk” tactics used by New York City Police Department officers have been struck down by a federal ruling.

The high-profile case was tried by a group of attorneys, including alumna Sunita Patel ’05, staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the “creative use of law as a positive force for social change.” At CCR, Patel litigates racial profiling, immigrant justice, and other human rights issues.

“It was an honor to litigate a case like Floyd v. City of New York. A class action on behalf of Black and Latino New Yorkers to challenge a grave injustice—it’s a public interest attorney’s dream,” said Patel.

The New York City Public Advocate’s Office said the majority of New Yorkers stopped under the policy were African Americans or Latinos. According to reports, nine out of 10 persons who were stopped and frisked since 2002 were also innocent.

“The class member witnesses were warranted to feel afraid, yet courageously testified against the New York Police Department,” said Patel. “It was encouraging to watch the witnesses testify on behalf of entire communities that feel under siege by the NYPD.”

When she arrived at AUWCL, Patel hoped to become a lawyer who could tap into the power of community organizing and social movements. This case, she said, provided her an important opportunity to do just that. She reflected, “The trial epitomized many of the tenants I learned at AUWCL about law in support of community organizing.”

“In the courtroom we knew the public was on our side because people organized to pack the court every day—even though it was a bench trial—to hold the Police Department accountable for the injustices it had committed,” said Patel.

The federal ruling rejected the stop and frisk tactics based on a 4th amendment violation, meaning the stops were carried out without reasonable suspicion, and a 14th amendment violation, meaning stops occurred on the basis of race.

“Judge Scheindlin ordered the City to engage in a joint reform process where stakeholders and those impacted by unlawful stops can be involved in the change process,” explained Patel. “We are excited about that opportunity, and we hope that the City sees the decision as an opportunity to build back trust with the community.”

Patel’s passion for human rights runs deep—at AUWCL she was involved with the Human Rights Clinic, was on the Human Rights Brief, and founded the Immigrants’ Rights Coalition. She urges future AUWCL graduates to understand the privilege that comes with being a lawyer.

“Really listen to your clients and to members of the community as you decide what cases to bring or how to present your evidence.” she advised.

Check out some of Patel's recent media appearances:

Democracy Now (6/13)

MSNBC's "Politics Nation" (8/12)

MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry (8/12)