Mississippi Sheriff’s Office, ACLU Settle on ‘Unbiased Policing Policy’ to Prevent Discriminatory Traffic Stops, Searches of Black Drivers

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A central Mississippi sheriff’s office and the state American Civil Liberties Union branch are taking steps to address profiling and discriminatory stops by local police.

Under a proposed agreement in a racial bias lawsuit, the Madison County Sheriff’s Department would adopt a so-called “unbiased policing policy” and establish new rules for traffic checkpoints and police encounters with pedestrians, according to The Associated Press. Attorneys for the sheriff’s office, as well as the African-American plaintiffs, had the decree approved by a judge late September.

Mississippi Unlawful Traffic Stops
According to the ACLU, Black residents comprised more than 70 percent of arrests and citations in Madison County, Mississippi, despite African-Americans making up just 33 percent of the county’s population. (Photo: Karen Mower / Getty Images)

“The Court’s order today affirms the simple but fundamental proposition, that in America police must treat everyone the same regardless of race,” Joshua Tom, executive director of the ACLU Mississippi, said in a statement obtained by Atlanta Black Star. “The ACLU of Mississippi looks forward to playing its role in ensuring that MCSD agrees to the terms of the agreement.”

In 2017, the civil rights organization filed a lawsuit accusing officers in the predominately Black Jackson suburb of unconstitutionally targeting Black motorists and pedestrians and subjecting them to searches and seizures at disproportionate rates.

At the time of their complaint, the organization said Black people were nearly five times as likely as whites to be arrested in Madison County. The ACLU also noted that African-Americans account for just 38 percent of the county’s residents, but the sheriff’s department data showed Black residents made up more than 70 percent of citations and arrests between 2012 and 2017.

As part of the proposed agreement, the county sheriff’s department would require its officers to complete implicit bias training, as well as training on cultural diversity and citizen interactions. It would also require the office to track and document the race of those who are arrested.

The plan, which absolves the department of any “illegal” conduct, further states that citizens who come into contact with deputies must be treated in a “fair, impartial, equitable, and objective manner,” no matter their “race, ethnic background, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, religion,” and so on, AP reported.

Moreover, the agreement calls for the creation of a community advisory board that would serve as an intermediary body for complaints lodged against the sheriff’s department.

Lastly, traffic checkpoints could no longer be conducted within a quarter mile of certain housing complexes where the ACLU’s complaint claimed residents and visitors were disproportionately stopped and searched by police. In its lawsuit, the organization wrote that the plaintiffs had been “unconstitutionally stopped, searched, or arrested … sometimes violently, while they were merely walking to work, driving in their neighborhood, celebrating with family or just spending time in their own homes.”

Their new proposal asserts that police should “conduct checkpoints only for constitutionally acceptable purposes.”

“The settlement contains provisions that will help ensure effective policing coupled with compliance with the protections of the U.S. Constitution,” said attorney Jonathan Youngwood, who represented the plaintiffs along with the ACLU. “This positive resolution illustrates the power of effective federal litigation before an independent judiciary.”