"In the ‘Stop and Frisk’ case, politics changed the law and law changed politics. The people used the courtroom to help leverage their power, and to take back their streets."
Baher Azmy is the Legal Director of the national legal and advocacy NGO, the Center for Constitutional Rights based in New York, and where he supervises litigation challenging government and corporate repression and protecting the human rights of vulnerable populations. He has litigated landmark cases including challenges to discriminatory stop and frisk policing practices, protecting the rights of immigrants, activists, and prisoners, and challenging U.S. detentions in Guantanamo, government surveillance and accountability for victims of torture. He regularly teaches Civil Rights law and U.S. Constitutional Law in U.S. law schools and produces scholarship on questions relating to access to justice.
Baher Azmy describes the remarkable fifteen-year long campaign of grassroots police accountability in New York City to overturn the abusive and discriminatory “stop and frisk” policy. The policy allowed for people to searched on the suspicion that they “might” be criminals. Floyd vs New York City is celebrated as a powerful case study of how “the power of law” and “the power of people” can work best together, and Asmy describes how the 2013 case drew its power from the mobilization that happened outside the courtroom – power it brought onto the witness stand, into court evidence, and into the gallery too. The case became the focus for mass mobilization in Black communities: even after a victory for the litigants was overturned on appeal, the new mayor Bill de Blasio cancelled the policy – as he had promised to do on the campaign trail, in response to the movement. Now that the policy is on the table again, with the election of Eric Adams, Asmy’s findings have more relevance than ever: “Meaningful and durable social change comes not from legal rulings, which are inherently vulnerable over time and contingent on political forces in the longer term,” writes Asmy, on of America’s most thoughtful and experienced movement lawyers. “They come from social and political movements that center communities most impacted by an injustice, as the agents of the change they demand.”