Police car
Police car Via Pexels

Chicago must face a class action by Black and Latino drivers who claim its "mass traffic stop program" intentionally targets them in violation of their civil rights, a federal court said.

Five plaintiffs, all of them Black or Latino drivers who were pulled over by the Chicago police 42 times in a five-year period, presented enough evidence that the program was "motivated by a discriminatory purpose," Judge Mary M. Rowland claimed

The judge also denied the city's effort to strike certain elements from the class action but also partially dismissed portions of their complaint, specifically their Title VI claim because police departments cannot be sued as a matter of state law.

The plaintiffs' 14th Amendment and Illinois Civil Rights Act claims, however, survive.

The lawsuit was originally filed back in June of 2023 by Jose Manuel Almanza Jr, Eric Wilkins, Mahari Bell, Jacquez Beasley and Essence Johnson. The lawsuit stated that the "mass traffic stop program is simply the newest chapter in the long and sordid history of employing mass-stop policing tactics that discriminate on the basis of race and national origin, touted as a campaign to supposedly fight crime in Chicago", citing previous police department practices that led to ACLU-backed lawsuits, from waves of "disorderly conduct" arrests in the 1980s, "gang loitering" offenses in the 1990s, and "stop-and-frisk" in the early 2000s.

The lawsuit went on to cite departmental emails released by the activist groups Impact for Equity and Free 2 Move Coalition that showed the police department's top brass demanding more traffic stops as a crime-fighting strategy.

It also called for a permanent injunction barring the city from continuing the "mass traffic stop program" and create a plan to change policies and practices and train and monitor officers to prevent another pattern of biased stops.

A recent study by Cornell University seems to support most of these allegations, revealing that Black drivers in Chicago are significantly more likely to be stopped by police than white drivers, regardless of where they live or are going. The research was based on mobile phone GPS data which was used to map the racial composition of roads, confirming a racial bias in traffic stops that the researchers say is replacing stop and frisk as a new tactic for discrimination.

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