ACLU Asks Justice Department to Investigate Racially-Biased Police Practices in Saginaw

September 19, 2013

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to expand its current investigation of the Saginaw Police Department’s involvement in the shooting death of a black homeless man to include other police practices that appear to illustrate a pattern of racial profiling in the city.

“We understand Saginaw’s desire to address crime,” said Mark P. Fancher, ACLU of Michigan Racial Justice Project staff attorney. “However, police practices that illegally target communities of color undermine public safety by destroying community trust and wasting scarce law enforcement resources.”

Currently, the Department of Justice is investigating the July 2012 shooting death of Milton Hall. During a standoff between officers and Hall at a convenience store, six officers fired their weapons -- 47 shots were fired, with eleven hitting Hall. In September 2012, a day after county and state officials announced that their investigation was closed without criminal charges being filed against the officers, the DOJ announced a federal probe into possible civil rights violations.

In its 7-page letter, the ACLU of Michigan urges the DOJ to investigate potentially illegal police practices as part of the Hall investigation, including the so-called “jump-out program” and racial profiling. Specifically, the ACLU of Michigan is concerned with:

  • So-called “jump-out” stops, which have been widely reported in the media in Saginaw. The stops include officers from various agencies staking out certain communities of color and descending upon individuals who are allegedly violating city ordinances or state laws, including minor infractions such as jaywalking. The police officers use these minor infractions as an excuse to search the individual, ask for identification and question the individual about other crimes in the area.

    The ACLU of Michigan asks the DOJ to investigate whether the Saginaw stops are similar to the unconstitutional New York-style stop-and-frisk program and how neighborhoods become “target areas” and whether race-based presumptions may drive those decisions.

  • Pretextual stops of black and Latino residents for playing loud music in the car. In its letter, the ACLU documents the experience of one Saginaw resident, Kevin Jones, who was stopped by police and asked if he consented to a search of his car. When he declined, police officers reportedly arrested him, searched and impounded his car for playing loud music. One of the officers also added: “I’m not trying to be racial or anything but what y’all do over there [gesturing across the bridge toward the predominately black neighborhood] I don’t care, but over here if we hear it we are going to take your vehicle and arrest you.” Charges were later dropped against Jones.

    A Freedom of Information Act request revealed that within a one year period these officers arrested nine individuals for noise violations. Four of the individuals who were stopped were identified in the report as black, two have Spanish-language surnames, and the remaining three are not identified by race.

In its complaint, the ACLU of Michigan writes:

From the racially biased stop-and-frisk policies of the New York Police Department to the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida, the evidence of widespread discriminatory law enforcement continues to mount, and there is a growing demand across the country to expose and take immediate action to end racial profiling.

There is also a growing awareness about the devastating consequences that racial profiling and biased police practices have in communities of color. Complaints about racial profiling come from cities throughout Michigan, and Saginaw is not an exception.

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