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Famed NY Cop Serpico Calls Out Stop-And-Frisk Defender

May 24, 2013
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now it's time for BackTalk. That's where we hear from you. Editor Ammad Omar is here with me once again. What's going on today, Ammad?

AMMAD OMAR, BYLINE: Hey, Michel. We talked twice this week about New York City Police Department's so-called Stop-And-Frisk policy. There's a lawsuit challenging the way the department carries that out because critics say it targets black and Hispanic people.

Anyway, you talked to Heidi Grossman, who's the city's lead attorney in the case, and you asked her why there are no black or Hispanic people on the city's legal team for this lawsuit. So, right after the interview, we got a heated response from Ms. Grossman's office. They later sent along this statement from Celeste Koeleveld. She's the executive assistant corporation counsel for public safety and she says, quote, "by questioning the racial composition of the city's legal team, Ms. Martin made assumptions about the attorneys based solely on the color of their skin, an ironic turn in a discussion about alleged racial profiling. We trust that NPR's audience does not share her concerns about our sensitivity to the issues or our commitment to upholding civil rights."

Well, Michel, our audience did write in. A few agreed with the New York City law department there, like R. Dennis Hager(ph) from Millington, Maryland. Who says, I rue the day when legal representation is tainted by the quota system. I would not want my tax dollar to be spent loading up the legal team for the sake of balance.

But, Michel, most people who wrote in thought the questions were valid, including someone you might have heard of. We got a letter from Frank Serpico. He's a retired New York Police Department detective and he blew the lid off police corruption in the NYPD back in the 1970s. He was later portrayed by Al Pacino in the classic movie "Serpico." Detective Serpico says it was amusing that Ms. Grossman says her legal team picked its attorneys based on merit and he says, quote, "I guess no such person could be found among people of color," unquote.

MARTIN: Well, thanks, Ammad, and as always, we suggest that, if you missed it, you listen to the conversation yourself and draw your own conclusions. Thanks, Ammad.

OMAR: Thank you.

MARTIN: And remember, at TELL ME MORE, the conversation never ends. To tell us more, you can visit us online at NPR.org/TellMeMore. Please remember to leave us your name. We're also on Twitter. Just look for TELL ME MORE NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.