ACLU Lawsuit Challenges Racial Discrimination in Eastpointe School

January 09, 2009

DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a federal lawsuit last night charging East Detroit Public School officials with failing to protect two African American students at East Detroit High School from being taunted with racial epithets and slurs on a daily basis and from being physically attacked in the school cafeteria.

“All students have a right to an educational environment free of racial discrimination and harassment,” said Mark Fancher, ACLU of Michigan Racial Justice Staff Attorney. “This kind of racially charged environment that our clients endured, including daily verbal attacks from other students, robbed our clients and others of this right. Not only are the inactions of the school unconscionable, they are illegal.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, was brought on behalf of siblings, Jacqueline Turner and DeLawrence Turner, after years of negotiations between the ACLU and the school failed. Recently, the ACLU asked the school to hire an independent consultant to assess the environment in East Detroit High School and for the school to implement the consultant’s recommendations in an effort to alleviate any continuing conditions at the school. In addition, the lawsuit contends that the treatment that the Turners faced at the school was not isolated and in fact the use of racial epithets and racially motivated fights between African American and white students were common before the Turners’ enrollment in the school.

The Turners reported the racially motivated harassment repeatedly to school officials, but the incidents persisted. According to the lawsuit, they were called "nigger" and "coon" many times over a several week period in late 2005 and early 2006. Finally the taunting escalated into a fight on Jan. 11, 2006, in which five white students, who had targeted the Turners daily, physically attacked them.

The incident occurred after DeLawrence responded to the taunts. According to the lawsuit, one white student used "nigger" up to 10 times and called Jacqueline a "bitch.” Shortly thereafter, the five white students attacked the Turners until security guards pulled them away.

“When I sent my kids off to school, I expected them to get an education in math, science or history,” said Darlene Turner, the mother of Jacqueline and DeLawrence. “I didn’t expect them to get a real life education in race discrimination.”

The ACLU charges that the school’s inaction violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and are asking the a federal judge to rule that the Turners' civil rights were violated and to award monetary damages for the trauma they endured. The ACLU continues to encourage the school to hire an expert consultant to asses the situation.

This is not the first time the ACLU of Michigan has filed a lawsuit on behalf of African American teens in Eastpointe. In 2006, the ACLU of Michigan settled the “bicycling while black” lawsuit for $160,000 after the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in its favor. Each of the teens involved in the case had been stopped by an Eastpointe police officer while riding their bikes after a memorandum instructed officers to investigate any black youth riding through Eastpointe, a predominantly white city.

To read the complaint, click here.

To read more about the bicycling while black case, go to: http://www.aclumich.org/issues/racial-justice/2006-05/1169

Related Issues: