February 21, 2013 9 Comments
My first suit against the NYPD, for stopping & frisking me for being a white guy in a black neighborhood has a motion for summary judgment pending, filed by the city. A motion for summary judgment filed by the defense means basically “under the undisputed facts we know so far, no reasonable jury could find us liable, so please dismiss this action without a trial.” When complicated motions are filed in federal court, typically the U.S. District Judge will have a magistrate judge (basically, an assistant judge) read through it and write up a report on whether or not the motion should be granted. The parties have a chance to explain to the district judge why the magistrate is wrong, if they’d like, before the district judge makes a ruling.
The biggest sticking point in this case is that the city “can’t find” the cops who stopped & frisked me. The magistrate judge recommended that the motion be granted and my case be tossed because — get this — no “reasonable jury [could conclude] that police officers were involved in the alleged stop.” In other words, a jury might believe my story entirely, but since I didn’t get badge numbers and the city “can’t identify” the cops, a reasonable jury would have to find that these people — who stopped me, identified themselves as police, detained me, and searched me — were probably just random troublemakers, not real police. We’ve all heard of the stories of random, non-police groups of men stopping & frisking the citizens just for kicks, right?
But, that’s not even the most absurd part of the report produced by U.S. Magistrate Judge Vera M. Scanlon. Part of my complaint that the judge was analyzing alleged a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, which prohibits racial discrimination: “All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have … equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens.” In combination with the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees equal protection to all persons regardless of race, this law must either be interpreted a) to protect white persons the same as racial minorities, or b) as unconstitutional and void. “Where a statute is susceptible of two constructions, by one of which grave and doubtful constitutional questions arise and by the other of which such questions are avoided, our duty is to adopt the latter.” Jones v. United States, 529 U.S. 848, 857 (2000).
Judge Scanlon, however, found that to state a claim under § 1981, one must be a member of a minority group, and that this is perfectly constitutionally sound. Or, essentially, that the law is different for white people than it is for racial minorities. I unfortunately don’t get to challenge this part of the report since my most recent amended complaint dropped the § 1981 claim (it was unnecessary since proving that I was stopped illegally is much simpler than proving that I was stopped because of my race). It is, however, disturbing just the same.