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"The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund is simply the best civil rights law firm in American history." -- President Obama

NYC Sued Over Unlawful and Discriminatory Policing in Public Housing

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Friday, January 29, 2010

(New York, New York) Today, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), the Legal Aid Society (LAS), and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP (Paul Weiss) filed a class action lawsuit against the City of New York and the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) challenging the New York City Police Department’s reckless and unlawful practice of routinely subjecting NYCHA residents and their visitors to illegal stops and false arrests purportedly to enforce trespass laws.

The complaint asserts that NYPD officers indiscriminately stop and arrest people living in or visiting NYCHA residences. As a result, people who have a legitimate and lawful reason for being on NYCHA property are routinely detained and/or arrested for criminal trespass. Sometimes they even arrest residents in their own buildings. The consequences of these unfounded trespass arrests extend beyond the initial stop or arrest. They include loss of employment, income, missed medical appointments and separation of families.

“Our clients are New Yorkers stopped and arrested while trying to go about their everyday lives. They are visiting friends; dropping off children; or caring for elderly or sick relatives,” said Steven Banks, LAS Attorney-in-Chief. “NYCHA building residents do not surrender their rights when they sign a lease, and they should not be arrested and drive up the cost of the criminal justice system.”

Notably, these sweeps and checkpoints are only implemented in communities of color, such as NYCHA residences. As a result, New York City’s African-American and Latino residents bear the brunt of the NYPD’s unlawful activities. Indeed, evidence shows that, city-wide, African Americans are arrested for trespass almost ten times more often than whites. Furthermore, when the predominantly minority NYCHA residence is located in a mostly white or gentrifying neighborhood, the disparity in arrest rates between the building and the surrounding area increases.

“The effects of crime exact a particularly high toll on the city’s African-American and Latino residents, but the NYPD’s pattern of flagrant constitutional violations compounds rather than alleviates the communities’ injuries,” said John Payton, LDF President and Director-Counsel. “In our nation, there are some means of law enforcement which are simply not lawful.”

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York is asking the court to declare the City’s policies and practices unconstitutional and order that they be halted immediately, as well as award compensatory damages to the plaintiffs.

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Founded in 1940 under the leadership of Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (www.naacpldf.org) is America’s legal counsel on issues of race. Through advocacy and litigation, LDF focuses on issues of education, voter protection, economic justice and criminal justice. LDF pursues racial justice to move our nation toward a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all. Although initially affiliated with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, LDF has been an entirely separate organization since 1957.

The Legal Aid Society, the nation’s oldest and largest not-for-profit legal services organization, is an indispensable component of the legal, social, and economic fabric of New York City-passionately advocating for low-income individuals and families across a variety of civil, criminal, and juvenile rights matters, while also fighting for legal reform. The Legal Aid Society has performed this role in City, State, and federal courts since 1876 and does so by capitalizing on the diverse expertise, experience, and capabilities of 850 of the brightest legal minds who work with 600 social workers, investigators, paralegals and support and administrative staff in a network of borough, neighborhood and courthouse offices in 25 locations in New York City. The Legal Aid Society takes on more cases-300,000 annually-for more clients than any other legal services organization in the United States and brings a depth and breadth of perspective that is unmatched in the legal profession. Visit us at (www.legal-aid.org).

Paul Weiss (www.paulweiss.com) is a firm of more than 600 lawyers with diverse backgrounds, personalities, ideas and interests who collaboratively provide innovative solutions to our clients’ most critical and complex legal and business challenges. We represent a varied range of clients, including some of the largest publicly and privately held corporations and financial institutions in the U.S. and abroad. We are equally committed to representing those in need, and our pro bono efforts continue to benefit the world in profound ways.