The complaint is supported by statistical evidence and public statements made by CPD and city officials. [Representational image] Maskot/Gettyimages

Five Black and Latino individuals from Chicago filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department (CPD) on behalf of a class of Black and Latino drivers on Jun. 26, 2023.

The lawsuit alleges that the CPD engages in racial profiling by disproportionately targeting Black and Latino drivers during traffic stops.

It argues that this disparity cannot be justified on the grounds of public or traffic safety.

The complaint further claims that the racial and ethnic disparities in the CPD's traffic stops are a result of the department's policies that require officers to meet traffic stop quotas.

These policies allegedly lead to an excessive number of traffic stops for minor equipment and registration violations in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods on the South and West Sides of the city.

The complaint is supported by statistical evidence and public statements made by CPD and city officials.

According to the data presented in the complaint, the CPD's mass traffic stop program, which intensified under the administrations of former Mayors Lori Lightfoot and Rahm Emanuel, has not resulted in a decrease in serious crime in Chicago.

The complaint alleges that this program leads to harassment, racial profiling, and mistreatment of law-abiding individuals of color who are simply going about their daily lives.

It argues that this undermines public confidence in the CPD, wastes public resources, and ultimately compromises public safety.

The lawsuit filed Monday asks a federal court to prohibit CPD from targeting predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods for a high volume of traffic stops, bar the use of traffic stops as simply an excuse to search for contraband like weapons or drugs, and end traffic stop quotas, among other requests.

"As a community organizer working to improve relations between police and community members, it is clear that CPD's practice of targeting Black drivers with traffic stops increases tension and anger between Black people and the police. It makes people of color feel like we're not free to travel in our own neighborhoods," said Eric Wilkins, a Black resident of the Roseland neighborhood on the City's Far South Side, and lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. Wilkins has been stopped repeatedly by Chicago police over many years.

"As a careful and conscientious driver, it is obvious that I have been stopped based on police officers' false stereotypes about young Black men rather than for any legitimate reason," said plaintiff Mahari Bell, a Black veteran of the Illinois Army National Guard who resides in the South Shore neighborhood.

As stated in the complaint, Bell, one of the plaintiffs, claims to have been subjected to at least 10 traffic stops within the past eight years. However, during these stops, Bell asserts that they were not issued a single citation.

"It was humiliating and degrading to be treated like a criminal in front of countless people on that street corner," added Bell. "There was absolutely no reason for this frustrating stop, let alone for humiliating me while I was at work."

According to the complaint, there was an incident in May 2022 involving Bell, who was working as a food delivery driver near Chicago's Willis Tower.

During this incident, officers allegedly approached Bell's car and immediately asked if he had any cannabis in his possession.

Despite Bell's response of no, the officers instructed him to exit the vehicle. As Bell complied, the officers handcuffed him with his hands behind his back, stating that handcuffing drivers was a common practice for them.

During this time, the officers conducted a search of Bell's car and personal belongings without his consent and without any legal justification.

The incident attracted attention from onlookers on the busy downtown street. One of the officers proceeded to reach into Bell's pants, took his wallet, and ran his name through their computer system, The Crusader reported.

Subsequently, Bell was released from the handcuffs and informed that he was free to leave.

According to the complaint, Jacquez Beasley, a Black resident of Chicago's West Side and an employee of the Chicago Park District, encountered a distressing and humiliating traffic stop in January 2023.

Allegedly, CPD officers pulled Beasley over as he was entering the parking lot of his own workplace. During this incident, with his work supervisor as a witness, the officers subjected.

Beasley to an interrogation as if he were a criminal suspect, despite no apparent reason for suspicion. Eventually, they instructed him to continue on his way.

"I have been pulled over at least 12 times since I got my driver's license in 2020," said Beasley. "I feel that officers see me – a young Black man with dreadlocks – and immediately assume I'm suspicious, even though I have no record and I've never gotten a traffic ticket or even a warning."

The complaint asserts that the experiences described are not isolated incidents but rather representative of the daily encounters faced by hundreds of Black and Latino individuals during traffic stops conducted by CPD officers.

The data presented in the complaint reveals significant racial disparities in traffic stops. Since 2016, Black drivers in Chicago have been 4 to 7 times more likely than white drivers to be stopped by police, while Latino drivers have been twice as likely to be stopped compared to white drivers.

Furthermore, the data shows that Chicago police are more inclined to search Black and Latino drivers and their vehicles, despite often finding higher rates of illegal contraband in the vehicles of white drivers.

The complaint cites admissions from past CPD leadership, highlighting the intentional targeting of traffic stops in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods on the West and South Sides of the city.

The statistical analysis and supporting evidence presented in the complaint refute the claims made by CPD leaders that the high concentration of traffic stops in these areas is aimed at addressing violence.

The City's Inspector General has found that CPD is more likely to concentrate traffic stops in neighborhoods with a higher proportion of Black residents, rather than focusing on neighborhoods experiencing the highest rates of violence.

"Being stopped repeatedly has made me fearful of the police," said Essence Jefferson, a Black, full-time student who lives on the city's South Side with her young son. "I'm afraid to drive with my son in the car for fear of what might happen to us."

According to the allegations in the complaint, Jefferson, one of the individuals named in the lawsuit, has experienced a significant number of traffic stops. It states that she has been stopped at least 14 times since 2018.

José Manuel Almanza, Jr., a Latino resident of the city's West Side and veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, stated, "In just the past 2 years, I have been stopped more than 10 times by Chicago police while driving in the city. Many of these stops have been frightening – with police officers approaching my car with a hand on their weapons. I think the officers see a brown man driving on the West Side and they assume I'm up to no good, but I'm just trying to go about my life like everyone else."

"The experiences of these five drivers demonstrate how policies by the City and the CPD have sown fear and distrust among Black and Latino residents," said Alexandra Block, senior supervising attorney at the ACLU of Illinois.

"CPD's past leadership never has shown that targeting Black and Latino drivers, and neighborhoods where Black and Latino people live, for massive numbers of pretextual traffic stops makes the city safer. It does not."

"We are hoping new leadership in City Hall and at CPD will provide an opportunity to turn the page on this practice," added Block.

"The data presented in the complaint could not be clearer that Black and Latino drivers have been stopped far more than White drivers and that CPD's traffic stop initiative has not meaningfully reduced crime," said John A. Freedman, Senior Pro Bono Counsel at Arnold & Porter. "We are proud to stand with our clients and co-counsel to vindicate these important rights."

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