A federal court is hearing the most serious legal challenge yet to the New York Police Department's (NYPD) controversial practice known as stop and frisk.
The class action lawsuit argues that the NYPD's use of warrantless stopping and questioning in the city's neighbourhoods is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.
"The issue is: Do they have evidence that there are a massive number of unconstitutional stops? Black and Hispanic according to the victims and witnesses of violent crime commit 98 percent of all shootings in New York City, this again is according to victims and witnesses to those shootings .... It is crime disparities like this that is putting police officers at higher numbers in minority neighborhoods .... This is the lesser of two evils and the fact is, no other city has brought crime down to the extent that New York has."
- Heather Mac Donald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute in New York
The trial will include testimony from a dozen people who say they were targeted because of their race, a contention backed up by civil rights groups who say the policy unfairly targets minorities.
The overwhelming majority of the five million stopped in the last decade are African American or Latino.
In a sign of the atmosphere of mistrust and anger fostered by the policy, tensions boiled over earlier this month when police shot dead teenager Kimani Gray on March 8 during a 'stop and frisk' in Brooklyn. Days of protests followed.
Despite complaints, New York's mayor, Micheal Bloomberg and the NYPD say the policy is working and point to lower crime figures in New York.
But with crime also reduced in other cities that have not implemented 'stop and frisk', is the practice really necessary? And what are the wider implications of a policy like the NYPD's 'stop and frisk' for minority communities?
Joining Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, are guests: Heather Mac Donald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute in New York; Carl Dix, a writer and longtime activist against police brutality; Vincent Warren, the executive director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, the organisation leading the case against the NYPD.
"This lawsuit is to end discriminatory policies in New York City, we have a policy called stop and frisk, the 'stop and frisk' policy has a devastating effect on communities and it unfairly targets African American and Latino folks. What we are not trying to do is to end 'stop and frisk' as a crime fighting tool, but what we are trying to do is to stop the unconstitutional 'stop and frisks' that are happening in the city. What that means is that the police have only the ability to stop people based on reasonable and articulable suspicions .... We are trying to get the police department to stop using race as a proxy for criminalisation."
Vicent Warren, the executive director at the Center for Constitutional Rights