ACLU Has No Brotherly Love for Philly Cops

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The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit in federal court today over the Philadelphia police department’s “stop and frisk” policy, saying it unfairly targets innocent black and Latino citizens.  In 2005, 102,319 people were stopped; the number jumped to 253,333 in 2009. Of those, 21,280 resulted in an arrest. About 72 percent of those stopped were black.

The “stop and frisk” policy was part of Mayor Michael Nutter’s 2007 election campaign and was intended to put a dent in the city’s chronically high violent crime rates, which for many years have been substantially higher than national rates. In the first two years since Nutter took office, the city’s homicide rate fell 22 percent and overall violent crime rates were down over 15 percent.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are eight men who have been stopped by the police, including Rep. Jewell Williams, who attempted to intercede when witnessing what he considered overly aggressive tactics during a police stop involving two men; he was handcuffed and put in a police cruiser. Another plaintiff, Mahari Bailey, a 27-year-old lawyer, alleges that he was stopped four times in a year and a half, and charged only with having tinted windows, a charge later tossed out in traffic court.

The lawsuit claims that police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has failed to properly train, supervise and discipline police officers. It seeks to have the policy declared unconstitutional, and asks for unspecified damages and a court injunction to stop the searches.

Mary Catherine Roper, a lawyer for the ACLU in Pennsylvania, said “Our belief is that people are being stopped because of their race and not because of any individual activity that should raise any suspicion by police.”

Another civil liberties group, The Center for Constitutional Rights, has filed a similar lawsuit against the New York Police Department for its use of “stop and frisk” tactics. Darius Charney, a staff lawyer for the group contends that 85 percent of people stopped in New York since 2006 are either black or Latino.  Said Charney, “(Officers) target communities of color. They really behave as if they are occupying forces in a community.”

The NYPD claims that the percentage rate of minorities singled out and stopped by police is consistent with the rate of minorities said to be involved in criminal activities from descriptions provided by victims and witnesses of crimes.

The Philadelphia Inquirer

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