Like many people heading to the office, Lawrence Rushing carries a briefcase to the courthouse. But the distinguished African American man with the salt and pepper hair isn’t going to a job. He’s retired. Instead, he's coming to observe.
A Brooklyn professor has made a point of attending the federal stop and frisk trial nearly every day since it began three months ago. He has no personal ties to the case. But he believes the lawsuit challenging the way the city has been conducting its stop and frisk tactic is the most important trial focused on race in decades.
Rushing has attended each day of the stop and frisk trial for most of past nine weeks. He arrives at 8:30 a.m. He has a bagel and a coffee in the cafeteria. Then he heads to courtroom 15C where he takes his usual spot in the second row.
The former psychology professor at LaGuardia Community College taught several courses examining race and prejudice. He spoke to WNYC about why he has treated attending the proceedings like a new job.
This trial has been widely covered in the media. There are also court transcripts available. Why did you decide to come to court every day?
In a sense it was kind of a liberating feeling. All of a sudden I realized, 'Well you know, if you really want to know what's going on you have to be there.'
What’s your personal experience with stop and frisk?
I live in the Prospect Lefferts Garden section of Brooklyn. I've seen stops in my neighborhood and it's shocking. ... You don't believe that its happening when it does. But for the people that are being stopped, they’re in a kind of shock. They are kind of speechless. They don't know why its going on or happening.
Did you come to the trial with an open mind?
I was opposed to stop and frisk. What I wanted to see was how it was able to go on. I've learned as a result of being at the trial that its not so much the individual police officer but it is the supervisors at the highest level is where stop and frisk comes (from) and they enforce it on the police officers.
One of the allegations in the case is that people are regularly stopped because of their race and not reasonable suspicion. The city argues most of people committing crimes are black or Latino. What do you make of this part of the city's defense?
Nobody wants criminals to be dealt with more than the black community because they are often the victims of street crime. But instead of going after the criminals they go after innocent people-- 90 percent of the people they stop are innocent of any crime… If there's one thing a community should be able to do is to protect their children and we are not able to protect our children and this is a horrible blight on us, the older generation.
You've mentioned that whatever happens in terms of the outcome of the case you’re hopeful that race relations will improve and more New Yorkers will get to enjoy a better quality of life. Why do you think so?
The population is changing. People are not the way they used to be. People in their 20s and 30s voted for Obama. ... More and more we’re getting good people occupying the cities. For that reason I’m very hopeful something will occur. ... One of the reasons I've been here every day at this trial you know, it's therapy for me because it was so depressing and it has been for so long to see what has been going on in so many communities.
(Photo: Rushing takes copious notes during the stop and frisk trial. Kathleen Horan/WNYC)