Police put black residents of Mississippi county in 'permanent state of siege' ‒ lawsuit
The federal lawsuit alleges that the Madison County Sheriff's Department (MCSD) runs unconstitutional policing operations – including an aggressive "checkpoint" regime – disproportionately directed at the black population in the highly-segregated county near the state's capital, Jackson. The suit was filed by the ACLU of Mississippi and others on Monday against the MCSD, Sheriff Randall Tucker and the county itself.
The MCSD "implements a coordinated top-down program of methodically targeting Black individuals for suspicionless searches and seizure" while in their cars, walking in their neighborhoods or while in their own homes, the complaint says. Unjustified and excessive force are routine occurrences during MCSD policing actions during these searches and seizures, the lawsuit added.
The county's population is 38 percent black – as opposed to about 60 percent white – yet 73 percent of arrests made by MCSD from May to September 2016 were of black individuals, the complaint says. It added that Tucker, who took office five years ago, has ceased keeping track of civilian complaints of his department regarding racially-motivated policing.
"I should be able to walk home w/o being harassed by the police. The Sheriff’s deputies look at us like we’re criminals." - Steven Smith— ACLU of Mississippi (@ACLU_MS) May 8, 2017
"The MCSD’s Policing Program impacts virtually every aspect of Black residents' lives," says the complaint, which was filed on behalf of 10 individuals but seeks injunctive relief for "thousands of victims" of MCSD actions.
"Simple daily activities — such as commuting to work, grocery shopping, visiting friends and family, attending church, or even sitting on the steps outside one’s own home — present the very real possibility of unlawful and humiliating searches and seizures, as well as the attendant prospect of arrest and jail time for unpaid fines and fees."
Mississippi sheriff making black folks in the state's richest county show their papers to move around, ACLU says: https://t.co/s2FQeG1fwx— Marvin Sease&Desist (@PykeA) May 8, 2017
MCSD uses so-called checkpoints, roadblocks and "jump out" patrols of plainclothes officers to execute aggressive, warrantless searches and seizures around neighborhoods with high concentrations of black residents, the lawsuit says.
"Forcing citizens of the United States to 'show their papers' in this fashion runs afoul of the law as well as the most basic norms of decency in domestic policing," the complaint added.
This routine police brutality amounts to a "permanent state of siege" for black residents of Madison County, according to the suit, that results in "chronic fear and anxiety, disruptions to their everyday activities, restrictions on travel within their own neighborhoods and towns, and a tremendous reluctance to contact law enforcement officials for assistance when necessary."
The sheriff department's racist policing program is based on Madison County's "infamous history of racial animus" and longstanding segregation that has frequently resorted to violence to oppose racial integration, the complaint says.
The lawsuit offers several individual examples of this policing program and its impacts on black county residents, including vicious beatings and a variety of degrading abuse of plaintiffs who said they had done nothing to provoke legal scrutiny.
"For Black residents, Madison County is a Constitution-free zone where their right to equal protection under the law and against unreasonable searches and seizures is nonexistent,"said Jennifer Riley Collins, executive director of the ACLU of Mississippi.
MCSD has yet to comment on the lawsuit, ThinkProgress reported.
Despite vast police abuse and brutality across the US investigated by the Department of Justice in recent years, the current attorney general, former US senator Jeff Sessions, has vowed to ease up on federal lawsuits that target law enforcement.
US law enforcement "as a whole has been unfairly maligned and blamed for the unacceptable deeds of a few bad actors," Sessions said earlier this year.