On October 5th, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan announced it has reached an agreement in “a lawsuit filed against the Michigan State Police (MSP) on behalf of two of many African Americans who MSP has stopped in racially disproportionate numbers,” according to the ACLU Michigan website.
The lawsuit, Sankofa v. Rose, was filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in 2021 and is one in a series of lawsuits facilitated by the ACLU of Michigan in the last six years. Sankofa v. Rose was filed on behalf of an African American couple who were pulled over by MSP troopers, falsely accused of running a red light, and then detained for 90 minutes as officers and K-9 units searched their vehicle without probable cause.
Camara Sankofa, lead plaintiff in the lawsuit and ACLU of Michigan client, said, “I am a Black man in America, and while I’m not anti-police, I know firsthand that any encounter with police can cost me my life.” Sankofa added, “We celebrate today’s settlement – it won’t erase the terror that my partner Shanelle and I endured while troopers pulled us over for no reason, but it will hold the Michigan State Police accountable.”
“I understand that being an officer is a difficult job,” said Ms. Thomas, another ACLU of Michigan client and plaintiff in the case, “but they must understand the fear they instill in us every day because of the countless experiences throughout the nation of Black people being pulled over, detained, beaten, and killed simply for existing.”
According to MSP data, African Americans make up 14 percent of Michigan’s total population, but they accounted for 17 percent of all traffic stops in 2017. The percentage has continued to increase to 19 percent in 2018 and 20 percent in 2019.
“When racial patterns were detected in traffic stops, we immediately urged the MSP to engage experts to find out why it was happening,” said Mark Fancher, ACLU of Michigan Racial Justice Project staff attorney. “When they refused to do it, we were concerned that these disparities may be the result of racial profiling or other forms of discrimination, so we sued. Fancher sees the settlement as “an important opportunity to reform policing.”
An MSP release stated that the police force “continues to maintain there was a non-discriminatory, lawful basis for the traffic stop at issue in this lawsuit” and that “neither our internal investigation nor discovery in the lawsuit uncovered any information supporting a claim of racial profiling.”
Since the ACLU of Michigan’s recent advocacy efforts, the MSP now documents the race of drivers in their traffic stop data with more transparency, and after the lawsuit was filed, the force reportedly hired a firm to analyze and determine the reason(s) why officers disproportionately pull over drivers of color.
Outside experts from the Virginia-based firm CNA are expected to conduct a report, following which the state police will choose whether to make changes based on the findings.
“If they fail to do that,” Fancher said, “I think it becomes a matter of wide public concern that they are resisting recommendations which are intended to eliminate or at least reduce racial disparities and disproportionality in stops.”