Bard College student Samantha Rosenbaum is suing the New York Police Department for carrying out an immodest search while she was walking on a Williamsburg street on the way from the post office back to her place of work at a store last year.
The suit, reported Thursday by The New York Post, comes amid controversy over Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s charge that the police are carrying out a disproportionate number of frisks on white people. A New York Daily News survey published today revealed that the mayor is wrong, but more troubling is the reason for frisks, whether on blacks or whites.
Rosenbaum, age 22 and from Essex, New Jersey, told the newspaper that she loves animals and stopped to pet a cat she noticed in an alley. The plainclothed police, sitting in an unmarked car, apparently did not look at it that way.
“Hey, stop!” a man yelled from his parked car. “He was really aggressive,” Rosenbaum recalled. “I had no idea who he was, [so] I just kept walking.”
That was the obvious tip-off for the two police officers that she was a criminal, and they ran after Rosenbaum and threw her against the car, asking her if she had drugs.
“This whole time, I didn’t know who these people are,” she told the Post. “Finally, after a few minutes, they tell me they are police. My face and stomach were on the hood. I don’t think anyone, no matter what color you are, deserves to be treated like that.
“I offered to show them the cat. They had two people on top of me, and my arm was really hurting.”
Her lawyer Michael Goldstein added, “She thought she was getting kidnapped. This is a very nice young lady. This was a false arrest and imprisonment. It’s assault.”
The suit alleges that a policewoman who was part of the search-and-frisk team opened her clothing and peeked underneath at private parts of her body.
According to Rosenbaum, the police finally let her go when she started crying after they threatened several times to haul her off to the police station and charge her with a crime,
“They told me they didn’t want me to have a bad impression of cops so they were going to let me go,” the newspaper quoted her as saying.
Why would anyone even think of such a thing?
There are plenty who would think so.
The New York Civil Liberties Union found in a survey two years ago, quoted by Slate, “Only 11 percent of stops in 2011 were based on a description of a violent crime suspect.” The rest of them were carried out at random, and most of the victim was found to be innocent.
The numbers are astonishing. Hundreds of thousands of people are stopped every year for frisks that turn out to be needless but which the police justify when they file forms after each search. All a police officer has to write is that a person was “carrying a suspicious object” or “wearing clothes commonly used in a crime,” or was wearing “inappropriate attire for season.”
Or, “The suspect was petting a cat.”