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Comedians file suit against Atlanta police over airport searches

by Ezekiel J. Walker
Comedians file suit against Atlanta police over airport searches
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Comedians Eric André and Clayton English are challenging a police program at the Atlanta airport that they allege violates the constitutional rights of airline passengers, particularly Black passengers, via racial profiling and coercive searches just as they are about to board their flights.

On Tuesday, according to NBC News, lawyers for the two men sued in federal court in Atlanta alleging Clayton County police racially profiled and illegally stopped them at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

The two comedian actors say officers singled them out during separate stops about six months apart because they are Black and questioned them about drugs as other passengers passed through and watched.

“People were gawking at me, and I looked suspicious when I had done nothing wrong,” André said in an interview, recalling the experience as “dehumanizing and demoralizing.”

The lawsuit names Clayton County and the police chief, as well as four police officers and an investigator for the district attorney’s office. It alleges violations of the constitutional rights that protect against unreasonable seizures and seizures and against racial discrimination.

While the stated purpose of the program is to fight drug trafficking, the lawsuit states drugs are rarely found, criminal charges seldom result, and seized cash provides recurring financial incentives for the police department.

Clayton County police officers and investigators from the county district attorney’s office selectively stop passengers in the narrow jet bridges used to board planes, the lawsuit claims. The officers take the passengers’ boarding passes and identification and interrogate them, sometimes searching their bags, before they board, the lawyers say in the lawsuit.

The police department says that the stops are “consensual encounters” and that they are “random,” but in reality the stops “rely on coercion, and targets are selected disproportionately based on their race,” the lawyers argue.

Police records show that from Aug. 30, 2020, to April 30, 2021, there were 402 jet bridge stops and that passengers’ races were listed for 378 of those stops. Of those 378 passengers, 211, or 56%, were Black, and people of color accounted for 258 total stops, or 68%, the lawsuit says.

The 402 stops resulted in three reported drug seizures: about 10 grams of drugs from one passenger, 26 grams of “suspected THC gummies” from another and six prescription pills without a prescription from a third, the lawsuit says. Only the first and third people were charged.

The 402 stops also yielded more than $1 million in cash and money orders from 25 passengers. All but one were allowed to continue their travels, and only two — the ones who also had drugs — were charged, the lawsuit says. Eight of the 25 challenged the seizures, and Clayton County police settled each case, returning much of the seized money, the lawsuit says.

André states he felt a “moral calling” to bring the lawsuit “so these practices can stop and these cops can be held accountable for this, because it’s unethical.”

“I have the resources to bring national attention and international attention to this incident. It’s not an isolated incident,” he continued. “If Black people don’t speak up for each other, who will?”

Information in this article was obtained via NBC News. 

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