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Spencer Wolff Headshot

An Unconstitutional Act

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Yesterday, I saw David Ourlicht choke up in tears before dozens of journalists and cameramen. His emotion stemmed from a mix of joy, relief, and sadness and it overwhelmed him when it came time for him to speak.

After wiping his eyes, he told the press. "The first thing I did when I heard the verdict was to cry." Three other young men put their hands on his shoulder. They knew what he was going through.

David Ourlicht is one of the four named plaintiffs in the landmark class-action lawsuit Floyd et al. v. City of New York et al., challenging the constitutionality of the New York Police Department's practice of Stop, Question and Frisk. He is also the main subject of my documentary STOP, which I have been filming for the last three years about the Center for Constitutional Rights' lawsuit against the City of New York.

Yesterday, Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled in a wide-ranging verdict that the city's highest officials have shown "deliberate indifference" and "have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner," She has ordered a host of remedial measures, including an external monitor for the Police Department. Yet, perhaps the most important immediate consequence of her ruling is vindication for the countless residents of New York who felt abandoned and excluded by the system.

For three years, I've listened to David Ourlicht and his friends -- a particularly respectful, intelligent and articulate collection of young men and women -- struggle with the psychological stigmatization of being arbitrarily stopped and menaced by the very people assigned to protect them. David's tears, his stirring mix of joy and sadness, communicated the astonishment of someone who has just had his dignity restored.

For the millions of innocent men and women like them, who have been accosted by the police over the past ten years, in what are often belligerent and demeaning encounters, and then let go without any explanation or apology, this ruling let them know that they still have a voice.

At the start of the press conference, Darius Charney, the lead attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, read off the names of the twelve individuals who testified on behalf of the plaintiffs, beginning with the four named plaintiffs: David Floyd, Lalit Clarkson, Deon Dennis, and David Ourlicht. "We owe our thanks to these twelve courageous individuals, who gave their time and subjected themselves to searing cross-examinations and character assassination, not out of any personal or pecuniary motives, but simply for the good of the community."

We should thank them as well. Here's to a little applause.