'NY Post' Reporter's Racial Profiling Suit Counters 'Post' Editorial

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Editor & Publisher

'NY Post' Reporter's Racial Profiling Suit Counters 'Post' Editorial

by
Joe Strupp

NEW YORK - On the same day that a New York Post editorial claimed racial profiling was not a growing problem, one of the Post's own reporters filed suit against the city claiming to be a victim of such profiling.

Leonardo Blair, 28, a Post staffer since May 2007, filed the lawsuit in U.S District Court in Manhattan, according to a copy provided by the New York Civil Liberties Union. The complaint claims Blair was subjected to racial profiling while walking from his car to his home in the Bronx on Nov. 28, 2007.A Jamaican immigrant and graduate of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, Blair claims he was harassed by police while walking along the street with his then-fiancee. In the lawsuit, he alleges that Officer William Castillo, one of several defendants the reporter names, stopped him due to his dark skin color and without cause. "Officer Castillo angrily demanded of Mr. Blair whether he spoke English," the suit stated. "Mr. Blair, surprised by Officer Castillo's mocking tone, replied under his breath in Spanish that he did not."

Eventually, after being frisked, Blair was arrested, the complaint states. "Mr. Blair was not engaged in any illegal or improper activity, and nothing in his behavior or conduct would provide the basis for reasonable suspicion that he was engaging in any wrongdoing," the lawsuit contends.

"Leo Blair was handcuffed and hauled to a precinct house for simply walking down the street," said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. "Walking while black is not a crime, and yet every year hundreds of thousands of innocent New Yorkers are stopped, searched and interrogated by the police for doing just that. For justice in our city to be truly just, the NYPD needs to start treating all New Yorkers fairly, regardless of the color of their skin."

Blair said in a statement: "The only reason why I declared to these officers that I was a reporter for the New York Post, that I was a graduate of Columbia University, is because I wanted it to end. I should not have to pull on cards to be respected as an individual."

Blair was issued two summonses, one alleging he disobeyed a lawful order and the other alleging he made "unreasonable noise." A judge dismissed both summonses on Feb. 8, NYCLU stated.

The NYCLU, in a statement, said it "is asking the court to issue a declaratory judgment that the defendants violated Blair's constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. It also is asking that all records of Blair's arrest, including those entered in the NYPD's massive stop-and-frisk database, be sealed or expunged."

A New York Police Department Public Affairs spokesperson said the department does not comment on lawsuits.

Ironically, the lawsuit was filed the same day that the Post editorialized in defense of police who have come under fire for alleged racial profiling. The issue was recently raised again after statistics released earlier this week revealed that New York City police stopped more people on the streets during the first three months of 2008 than during any quarter in the six years the police department has reported such data.

"Police overreach? Well, consider this: Last week, a killer said to be wearing a 'Team Fresh' gang T-shirt fatally stabbed an 18-year-old who was standing his own front porch. Isn't it a pity that the killer didn't encounter a stop-and-frisk team on his way to the scene of the crime?" the Post editorial said, in part. "Taken another way: How many young men didn't fall victim to weapons confiscated by the teams? A lot, we'd guess. If cops stand down, as critics demand, it'll be welcome back crime and chaos. And good-bye, peaceful New York."

Editor Col Allan and Editorial Page Editor Bob McManus did not immediately return calls from E&P seeking comment.

© 2008 Editor & Publisher

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