A recently filed federal lawsuit is drawing attention to blatant discrimination and segregation in one of the wealthiest counties in Mississippi, where the racist policies of the sheriff’s department have forced African-American residents to live in constant fear.
The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the Madison County Sheriff's Department (MCSD) for implementing “a coordinated top-down program of methodically targeting black individuals for suspicionless searches and seizures.”
“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,” ACLU Mississippi Executive Director Jennifer Riley-Collins said in a statement. “These practices force thousands of people to live in fear and under constant threat of being subject to suspicionless searches and arrests simply because of the color of their skin.”
The organization alleged the law enforcement officials in the majority-white county unfairly target African-American citizens for traffic stops and subject them to searches of their bodies, cars and homes without any reasonable suspicion or proof of wrongdoing.
It also accused the sheriff’s department of setting up roadblocks and checkpoints in black neighborhoods, particularly near black-owned businesses, to “jump” the resident without any warrant.
“Passing through these unconstitutionally intrusive roadblocks is fraught with the potential for harassment, intimidation, demeaning searches, baseless citations, and possibly even arrest and subsequent incarceration,” read the 86-page complaint.
38% of Madison County's population is Black. 73% of Sheriff's Dept arrests were of Black people. Racial profiling is wrong. So we're suing. pic.twitter.com/kg9Yp1Hvwt— ACLU of Mississippi (@ACLU_MS) May 8, 2017
The plaintiffs in this case, 10 black men and women between ages 27 and 62, have all been illegally searched, detained or arrested by sheriff's officials — some even more than once.
“During the course of these illegal searches and seizures, MCSD deputies routinely detain members of the black community without probable cause, and often issue citations and make arrests either without legal justification or to recover outstanding fines and fees, typically for minor infractions,” the lawsuit continued. “The various unconstitutional racially discriminatory policing practices that comprise the Policing Program range in scope and severity, but they are all conducted pursuant to the MCSD’s single overarching policy, custom, and/or practice of systematically conducting unreasonable searches and seizures of persons, homes, cars, and property on the basis of race.”
The ACLU believes the purpose of these stops, apart from promoting fear in the heart of minority communities, is to generate revenue by collecting unpaid fees and fines from the detainees. The union claims these problems have existed for generations.
According to the 2010 census, approximately 58 percent of Madison County residents are white while 38 percent are black, which is roughly the same as Mississippi.
The Madison Country Sheriff’s Department has not responded to the lawsuit yet.
The tensions between police and the African-American community has been running high for quite some time now, and the fact that sheriff and his deputies in this county have been able to run things in such a way for so long is a testament that racism is still considered a norm across the United States.
Thumbnail/Banner Credit: Reuters / Sait Serkan Gurbuz