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ACLU lawsuit accuses Michigan State Police of racial profiling

ACLU of Michigan video

The Michigan State Police needs to do more confront racial disparities in troopers’ traffic stops, according to a new lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Michigan.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a Black couple who was pulled over and detained for two hours while police searched their vehicle for drugs. Troopers found nothing, and the couple was eventually let go without a ticket or citation.

“This experience left me with a feeling of shame, as if I had done something wrong, when in fact it was the state troopers who should be ashamed,” said Camara Sankofa, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“The lawsuit alleges that the unlawful stop and thousands like it are the direct result of MSP willfully ignoring a record of racially disparate traffic stops over a period of years and failing to engage the assistance needed to correct practices and policies that cause racial profiling,” the ACLU said in a statement.

ACLU attorney Mark Fancher said this is part of a larger pattern of MSP traffic stops based on racial profiling.

“It’s all there in each case,” Fancher said. “The apparently pre-textual stop, the questioning about drugs, the order to exit the vehicle, the summoning of canines, the vehicle search, everything.”

Fancher said the MSP has not taken proper steps to root out what’s driving these disparities, and “refuses to engage experts to conduct an examination of the troopers' daily practices for purposes of identifying the causes of the disparities as well as measures that can be taken to eliminate racially discriminatory traffic stops.” Fancher said the lawsuit is seeking to rectify that.

The MSP vehemently denies that. It said it’s been working with the ACLU and other researchers from Michigan State University to document disparities, and take corrective actions—just not the ones the ACLU wants. In a statement, the MSP slammed what it calls the ACLU’s “intentional misrepresentation of our efforts and their continual insistence on pushing their own agenda.”

The MSP also says longstanding department policies prohibit racial or any other type of profiling, and said that “allegations of improper traffic stops are taken seriously.”

An ACLU-made video detailing the couple's encounter can be seen here:


Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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