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Civil rights leader threatens lawsuit over NYC street stops

By KAREN MATTHEWS, Associated Press Writer
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NEW YORK — A black civil rights leader threatened Sunday to file a class-action lawsuit over a reported fivefold increase over the number of people stopped and frisked by city police.

The New York Times reported Saturday that the New York Police Department stopped more than 500,000 people last year, more than five times as many as they did just four years before.

According to the report, 55 percent of the people stopped last year were black and more than 30 percent were Hispanic.

"We're not half the population in the city," the Rev. Al Sharpton said during a sermon at St. Luke Baptist Church in Harlem. "How do we get stopped and frisked half, other than there is a measure of profiling based on race that permeates in the NYPD?"

Sharpton said his civil rights organization, the National Action Network, would begin collecting names of New Yorkers who believe they have been victims of racial profiling for inclusion in the lawsuit.

"Those that have been stopped and frisked unfairly, I want you to give your name to your church office," he said. "It is our intention ... to file a class action suit to deal with the profiling of blacks in the city of New York in the stop and frisk policy."

The Times said that the 2006 statistics were delivered Friday to City Council offices, marking the first time the first time police released a full year's worth of data since 2002.

The numbers shed light on what are known as "stop-and-frisks," which have been closely scrutinized in recent years.

Questions of racial profiling in such stops arose after the deadly 1999 police shooting of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed man who was black. State and federal studies subsequently said there were racial disparities in such stops.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told City Council members Jan. 24 that racial profiling was not at work in street stops.

"Officers are stopping those they reasonably suspect of committing a crime, based on descriptions and circumstances," Kelly said, "and not on personal bias."

Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said more than 68 percent of crimes involved suspects described as black by victims or witnesses. He said more than 24 percent of suspected offenders were described as Hispanic.

Officers stopped 508,540 people on New York City streets last year, compared to 97,296 in 2002.

Browne attributed the increase partially to vigorous law enforcement.

An average of 5,317 arrests resulted from street stops each quarter last year, up from 2,819 in 2002. Summonses related to the stops nearly quintupled to an average of 7,292 a quarter last year, compared to 1,461 in 2002.

Sharpton said he did not know whether the lawsuit would be filed in federal or state court.

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