We represent five Black and Latino Chicagoans in a lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and City of Chicago seeking to end CPD’s practice of racially discriminatory mass traffic stops. Eric Wilkins, Mahari Bell, Essence Jefferson, José Manuel Almanza, Jr., and Jacquez Beasley all have been subjected to repeated traffic stops, and in certain cases, frisks and searches of their cars. We allege that their experiences are typical of the hundreds of thousands of discriminatory, pretextual traffic stops of drivers of color by CPD officers every year.
Data alleged in the complaint shows that CPD officers are far more likely to pull over Black and Latino drivers. Since 2016, Black drivers in Chicago have been 4 to 7 times more likely than white drivers to be stopped by police; Latino drivers have been about twice as likely to be stopped as white drivers. The Chicago police are also far more likely to search Black and Latino drivers and their vehicles, even though the police are more likely to find illegal contraband in the vehicles of white drivers.
Through its mass traffic stop program, CPD harasses, racially profiles, and demeans hundreds of thousands of law-abiding community members of color who are simply trying to go about their day. In doing so, it undermines public confidence in CPD and wastes public resources, which in turn harms public safety.
The complaint asserts that the mass traffic stop program is not effective at decreasing serious crime in Chicago. The complaint also alleges that the mass traffic stop program does not advance roadway safety. Instead, CPD officers use traffic stops for alleged minor equipment and registration violations as an excuse to investigate drivers and their cars in hopes of finding guns, drugs, or other contraband. However, the complaint alleges, only a miniscule portion of traffic stops in Chicago yield any contraband or result in an arrest.
The complaint asserts that CPD policies require officers to satisfy traffic stop quotas and flood neighborhoods on the South and West Sides of the City – where the majority of residents are Black or Latino – with traffic stops. Our clients experienced this firsthand when they were stopped by CPD officers.
We allege that the Defendants’ mass traffic stop program violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause as well as federal and state civil rights laws.
The lawsuit asks a federal court to prohibit CPD and the City from targeting neighborhoods with predominantly Black and Latino residents for a high volume of pretextual traffic stops, bar the use of traffic stops as an excuse to search for contraband like weapons or drugs, and end traffic stop quotas, among other requests.