ACLU Sues Milwaukee for MPD's Stop and Frisk Program

Feb. 22, 2017
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Plaintiff Gregory Chambers speaks at ACLU press conference

Well, this was a long time coming. This morning, the ACLU, ACLU of Wisconsin and Covington & Burling filed a federal class action suit alleging that the Milwaukee Police Department’s stop and frisk policy is unconstitutional. 

Since implementing the program in 2008, MPD’s traffic and pedestrian stops almost tripled, going from 66,000 in 2007 to 196,000 in 2016. 

Unsurprisingly, these stops targeted black and Latino Milwaukeeans. According to the MPD’s own database, black people were the targets of 72% of the stops from 2010 to 2012. They make up just 34% of the city’s population. 

The suit contends the policy violates the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. 

At the press conference this morning, three of the six plaintiffs in the suit spoke of their encounters with the police and the anxiety they feel every time they leave their house. They—or, in the case of Tracy Adams' son, who’d been stopped and frisked when he was just 11 years old—feel they are assumed to be criminals, even though they’re doing nothing unlawful. That takes a toll on a person, the constant watching and waiting for something bad to happen even though you’re doing nothing to cause it, and knowing you can’t do anything to prevent it from happening. Even worse, it makes the police seem like an occupying force, not a police department that is going to help you out when you’re a crime victim. 

Gregory Chambers, a young African American man who’s one of the lead plaintiffs, had been stopped three times without reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct, according to the suit. 

According to the suit, Chambers said he’d been followed along Miller Park Way into a gas station, where an MPD officer questioned whether the car he was driving belonged to him. It did, and Chambers was allowed to go. In a second incident, Chambers, driving a car he’d just purchased that had temporary license plates, was followed home. When he pulled up at his apartment building, the officers put on their siren and questioned him. Chambers said the officer was looking inside his car, fiddling with the gun in its unsnapped holster. Since nothing was remiss, Chambers was free to go. In the third incident, Chambers had parked his car on Water Street. When he was walking near the Marcus Center fountain, officers approached and questioned him, obtained his license and ran a check, then allowed him to go.

Chambers told the Shepherd that he hesitated at first about sharing his story and getting involved in the case, but decided to do it. 

“Not because [my story] wasn’t worth sharing, but I think there’s a lot of people who are in my position who have been subject to these kinds of encounters with officers,” Chambers said. “They feel like even if I say something, nothing is going to change. So you wonder, like, is it even worth it to open your mouth? Is it worth it to divulge this information? There has been a long history of this. It isn’t like it just happened overnight.” 

This will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention. 

The ACLU collected stories of those who’ve been affected by the MPD’s policy and are looking for more Milwaukeeans to share their experiences. To fill out the ACLU’s police harassment questionnaire, go to http://bit.ly/mkepolice

For more information about Collins et al. v the City of Milwaukee, go to the ACLU of Wisconsin’s website.

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