DETROIT — Acting on behalf of 21 young African-American men who were stopped by the police while riding their bikes, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today joined in a racial profiling lawsuit against Eastpointe officials and police officers.
The ACLU has joined the case as co-counsel in the suit previously filed by Chuck Chomet of Kelman, Loria, Will, Harvey & Thompson. The case was originally filed in August 2000 on Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment claims, alleging a clear pattern indicating a practice of discrimination.
"Racial profiling is especially insidious when it happens to children and it may stigmatize them for the rest of their lives," said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. "When some people think about racial profiling, it's usually about 'driving while black', but it can also affect children who aren't even old enough to have a license to drive."
Police logs and reports in Eastpointe, a suburb of Detroit formerly known as East Detroit, have identified over 100 incidents between 1995 and 1998 in which African American youths, ages 11-18, were detained. In several of the incidents, the young men were searched in addition to being stopped and questioned. Some of the victims' bicycles were seized by the police and later sold at a police auction.
In response to reports of strong-armed robbery and larceny of bicycles, F.E. Deweese, then Eastpointe's Chief of Police, sent a memo to the city manager in February, 1996 saying that he had instructed his officers "to investigate any black youth riding through our subdivision."
The ACLU recently began a racial justice project and now has legal staff to handle cases such as this, the first racial profiling lawsuit that it has filed. Additionally, the project will work with judges, lawyers, law enforcement agencies and the community about the problem of racial profiling.
Delphia Simpson, ACLU of Michigan Racial Justice Fellow said, "The practice of racial profiling is not only illegal and offensive, but if serious steps are not taken to eliminate it, the necessary trust between the community and the police will be eroded."