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Six African American Men Subjected to Stop and Frisks Pursue Class Action Lawsuit Against Chicago Police

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Chicago has a bigger problem with stop and frisks by police than New York had at the height of its use by New York police, and now six African American black men are suing the city of Chicago, the Chicago Police Department, CPD Superintendent Garry McCarthy and officers, who were involved in allegedly stopping and frisking them without reasonable suspicion and on the basis of their race.

The class action lawsuit was filed on April 20 and details six stop and frisks that took place in the past few years. The stops highlighted in the complaint represent a tiny, tiny sliver of the more than hundred thousand stop and frisks Chicago police carry out primarily in communities of color each year. That is why the six men seek to represent a class of people in Chicago, who have had their rights violated by stop and frisks.

The men seek an injunction that will prevent the city from continuing to employ “suspicionless stop and frisks” or stop and frisks based on racial or ethnic profiling. They seek an injunction on the use of quotas for arrests and stop and frisks and that the CPD document stops and keep records of the stops in an up-to-date computer database. Plus, they seek damages for the alleged abuse at issue in the lawsuit.

Darnell Smith and Darren Nathan were visiting neighbors around the 6000 block of South Paulina Street on May 3, 2013. They were on the front porch steps with friends. Officers pulled up in an SUV and approached the group allegedly without any “reasonable suspicion.” They asked if anyone had weapons. The group told the officers they had no weapons.

Nathan was then ordered to put his hands up as officers pat him down and searched his pockets and jacket. A second officer claimed that he wanted to make sure Smith and Nathan were not armed.

“You know you ran through my wallet for no reason and searched me without probable cause,” Nathan said as an officer grabbed his wallet and pulled out his ID.

The officer found no contraband and then ordered Nathan to go home. A second officer went through Smith’s pockets. He found only a phone charger. “Oh, you’re not armed. We okay, right?” the second officer said to him.

When asked for their badge numbers, the officers refused to provide the information and eventually got into their SUV and drove away.

Again, on October 9, 2014, Smith was outside a building where his grandparents live at 6612 S. Paulina Street. He was waiting for food to be delivered to him. Officers exited an unmarked car and allegedly asked why he was standing there. They also wanted to know if he had weapons. (His grandmother could see the incident from her window.)

Smith was told to step over to the car but refused. Officers patted Smith down, put their hands in his pockets and took out what was in them, including a wallet and his identification. His wallet was apparently tossed on the ground.

Officers ran his identification but found nothing on him. They let him go without issuing any citation.

In August 2014, Jeff Coleman was riding with a friend east on Ashland Avenue. Two officers pulled Coleman’s friend over at Ashland Avenue and 95th Street. They were asked if they had rugs or weapons and ordered out of the car. Coleman and his friend were asked if they had weapons or drugs, but the police allegedly proceeded to pat them down and search them with no “reasonable suspicion.”

The officers also demanded to search the trunk. Coleman and his friend did not consent. When Coleman said he “knew several Chicago police officers and did some political work in the neighborhood,” the officers let them go without issuing a citation.

Marque Ross was walking to the Kedzie & Ohio Food Mart on April 8 of this year when he was stopped by two police officers. “Do you know who I am?” one officer allegedly asked him while he was in the store. Ross did not know the officer. The two officers took him out of the store, demanded his identification, put him up against their police car and handcuffed him. They stuck their hands in his pockets and patted him down. He was ordered to take his shoes off. But the officers had no “reasonable suspicion” that he was armed or dangerous.

The lawsuit alleges McCarthy and the city of Chicago have implemented, encouraged and sanctioned a policy of stopping people without the suspicion required under the Fourth Amendment. “These constitutional abuses often are coupled with unconstitutional searches and seizures and, at times, excessive force.”

“The CPD targets African American individuals for illegal stops and frisks in areas where plaintiffs reside and/or visit,” the lawsuit further argues. “Thus, a real and immediate threat exists that the Fourth Amendment rights of the named plaintiffs and other class members will be violated by CPD officers in the future.” And, because the stop and frisks are conducted without any “reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminality” and often on the basis of race, it is impossible for plaintiffs to alter their behavior so they are not subject to future constitutional or civil rights violations.

The stop and frisks allegedly violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act, because the officers are “motivated by racial animus.” They also allegedly violate Illinois state law because they amount to “assault and battery,” “trespass,” privacy violations, “negligence,” and other violations of rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

The lawsuit comes nearly a month after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapter in Illinois published a report on the Chicago police’s justifications for stops that occurred in 2012 and 2013.

The ACLU found [PDF] police provided an “unlawful reason” or “failed to provide enough information to justify the stop” in half of the stops reviewed. Black Chicagoans were also stopped at a disproportionate rate of 72% of the stops, even though they only make up 32% of the city’s population.

There were over a quarter of a million stops in Chicago that did not lead to any arrests in the summer of 2014. “Chicagoans were stopped more than four times as often as New Yorkers at the height of New York City’s stop and frisk practice,” the ACLU also determined.

According to the complaint, “There are more stops per capita in minority neighborhoods. For example, in the minority district, Englewood, there were 266 stops per 1,000 people, while in the predominately white district, Lincoln/Foster, there were 43.”

Chicago has a history of lawsuits aimed at ending racist police practices. In the 1980s, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against a practice of “disorderly conduct” arrests that often involved stops and frisks. This led to a sharp decline in these kinds of police interactions. Yet, in the 1990s, police moved on to exploiting a “gang loitering ordinance” to justify tens of thousands of arrests “over 18 months of enforcement.” The ACLU sued, and the US Supreme Court struck down the ordinance that was used as a “vehicle for stopping and searching young men of color.”

These kinds of stops and searches became prevalent again in the early 2000s. According to the ACLU, a “lawsuit on behalf of Olympic Gold medalist Shani Davis and several others, challenging a series of humiliating stop and frisk searches by Chicago police” eventually led to changes in policy, “including a requirement to record why stops occur.” But police were still able to avoid putting down key information about why they were stopping people.

The city of Chicago has received numerous complaints and requests to end racist stop and frisk practices by police. The city, so far, has refused to address the abusive policy, which leads to routine civil rights violations in communities of color.

Chicago Stop And Frisk Lawsuit by ToddFeurer

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."