ACLU Sues San Francisco Police Department for Unconstitutionally Targeting Black People for Arrest

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SAN FRANCISCO – The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, and the law firm Durie Tangri LLP, filed a lawsuit against the City of San Francisco for its police department’s racially discriminatory enforcement practices. In violation of the Constitution, the SFPD, which has a long and sordid history of racial discrimination, targeted Black people for arrest because of their race.

In 2013, the SFPD teamed with the Drug Enforcement Administration to target Black people for selling small amounts of drugs in the Tenderloin District when it was well-known to the Police Department that people of many different races engage in drug sales in that neighborhood. Of the 37 people arrested and prosecuted in federal court, all were Black.

“The SFPD’s history of racially discriminatory law enforcement is welldocumented and still inadequately addressed,” said Novella Coleman, staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. “Multiple studies – some commissioned by the city itself – have consistently documented the tolerance of racist policing by the department, and yet it has failed abysmally to take appropriate and meaningful steps to reform its unlawful ways.”

The Black individuals targeted on the basis of their race had their lives upended and were separated from loved ones. The targeting of plaintiffs by the SFPD violated the guarantee of equal protection of the laws and demonstrates yet again the systemic failures across many law enforcement agencies regarding their treatment of people of color.

“Targeting individuals for arrest and criminal prosecution based on the color of their skin is indefensible and the numbers here—37 out of 37— speak for themselves,” said Daralyn Durie, founder of Durie Tangri LLP.

“The SFPD is continuing a disturbing historical trend, not just in San Francisco but across the country, of selectively targeting people for arrest and prosecution based on their race,” said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “By singling out Black people for enforcement among people of other races, police departments not only offend the Constitution they have sworn to uphold, they perpetuate this nation’s shameful legacy of racial discrimination.”

The lawsuit filed today seeks to hold the city of San Francisco accountable for its police department’s racially discriminatory arrests, which were made possible through the city’s indifference to its longstanding unconstitutional practices. By doing so, the ACLU is hopeful that these practices – which should have never existed in the first place – will end.

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Cross v. San Francisco (Racially Biased Policing)

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