ACLU Sues City of Milwaukee for Racist Stop and Frisk Policy

By Kenrya Rankin Feb 23, 2017

The ACLU and the ACLU of Wisconsin just filed a law suit against the city of Milwaukee alleging that the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) routinely and purposely stops and frisks Black and Latinx people with no cause.

Collins v. City of Milwaukee was filed in the Milwaukee Division of the U.S. District Court’s Eastern District of Wisconsin. It names six Black and Latinx residents who were stopped by police without reasonable suspicion as the plaintiffs. But as a class action suit, it seeks redress for every person who has been, or will be, stopped by the MPD since January 7, 2008, plus a subclass that includes all Black and Latinx members of that class. The suit names the city, Chief of Police Edward Flynn and the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission as defendants.

Filed yesterday (February 22), the suit alleges that at Flynn’s direction, the department violates the protections that should be afforded citizens of color via the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And the ACLU says those violations are increasing: the number of traffic and pedestrian stops tripled in the years after Flynn became the top cop, jumping from 66,657 in 2007 to 196,434 in 2015.

The suit explains how this increase impacts people of color in Milwaukee:

Overwhelmingly, the victims of the MPD’s suspicionless stop-and- frisk program are Black and Latino people. Though implemented citywide, the MPD’s program has been largely concentrated in neighborhoods of color, including Milwaukee Police Districts Three, Five, and Seven, all of which are located in predominantly Black neighborhoods in the northern half of the City.

In addition, data reflect that Black and Latino people are more likely than white people to be stopped and frisked throughout Milwaukee, including in mixed-race and predominantly white neighborhoods. A 2011 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analysis of MPD traffic stop data found that Black drivers citywide were seven times more likely—and that Hispanic drivers were five times more likely—to be targeted for a traffic stop than white drivers. Moreover, Black non-Hispanic people made up 72 percent of the targets of MPD stops conducted between 2010 and 2012 that were documented in an MPD database, even though they made up an estimated 34 percent of the city’s total population at the time, according to U.S. Census figures.

The 81-page complaint goes on to relay the stories of the plaintiff’s encounters with law enforcement, before asking the court to:

  • Certify the class for the suit
  • Issue a judgment on the alleged rights violations
  • Halt MPD’s stop and frisk policy and practice
  • Dismantle the department’s stop and frisk quota program
  • Order MPD to revise policies governing everything from training to discipline
  • Require the department to monitor and transparently document all stops and frisks in a publicly accessible database

Read the full lawsuit here, and watch video of yesterday’s press conference to announce the lawsuit below (it starts at about the nine-minute mark).