“This case is going to go down in the history books, and kids will be reading about it!”
– Jumaane Williams, New York City Councilman, District 45
For the past several years, stop & frisk in New York City has been front-page news. It has stirred passions, sown division, inspired social activism, and led to a monumental change in New York City’s understanding of policing and its vision of itself. The central catalyst for this change was Floyd et al. v. the City of New York et al. (Floyd), a class- action lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in 2008. The lawsuit alleged racial bias in the pattern and practice of stop & frisks conducted by the New York City Police Department (NYPD). It culminated in Federal Judge Scheindlin’s landmark ruling that the NYPD’s application of stop & frisk unconstitutional. In January, 2014, Mayor Bill De Blasio announced that the city would drop its appeal to the ruling.
The feature length documentary STOP follows three years in the life of David Ourlicht, one of the four named plaintiffs in Floyd. By interweaving the story of David’s family with the action around the trial, STOP places the stop & frisk controversy in the context of a long history of civil rights. From David’s Jewish grandfather, who describes being arrested in Greenwich village on his first date with David’s grandmother, an African- American woman, to David’s biracial father, Italian-American mother, and mixed race sister, the Ourlicht family offers a powerful backdrop to the flashpoint issue of stop & frisk. The film asks: Must we trade safety for civil rights?
From interviews with the lead attorneys bringing the case, to police officers who defend the practice, to the law professor who wrote the expert report, to coverage of Mayor Bloomberg and Police Chief Ray Kelly, STOP paints a picture of a city divided. Then the trial starts. From the rallies, to the press conferences, to the day David testifies, to closing statements and CCR’s celebratory party, STOP offers a behind the scenes look at the trial, and gives a history of an era of intense political battles that the City of New York will never forget.
Although the trial is over, stop & frisk is very much alive today. The remedies ordered by judge Scheindlin have yet to commence, and New York has returned to a policy of “No Tolerance” policing. In wake of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, and the homicide of Eric Garner by the NYPD on Staten Island, the nation continues to ask itself the questions posed by the film: How can we balance safety against civil rights? How entrenched is racial profiling in law enforcement? When will the police violence ever stop?