The ACLU of Illinois is condemning the Chicago Police Department’s request to put on ice a lawsuit it filed last year, Wilkins v. Chicago, challenging racially discriminatory traffic stops. The case alleges that CPD is violating the constitutional and statutory rights of Black and Latino drivers by disproportionately targeting them for pretextual traffic stops—stops that are an excuse to fish for evidence of criminal activity without suspicion, not to make the roads safer. 

“We have been warned through history to watch what public officials do, not what they say,” said Alexandra Block, Director of the Criminal Legal System and Policing Project at the ACLU of Illinois. “While Superintendent Snelling told the court on June 11 that he is committed to addressing CPD traffic stops, the City is doing everything it can through the legal process to delay the urgently-needed changes to end the City’s discriminatory mass traffic stop program and to cut our clients and the community out of the conversation.” 

“It is time to address racially-discriminatory traffic stops in Chicago in a transparent, inclusive way.” 

On June 10, Judge Mary Rowland of the Northern District of Illinois mostly denied the City’s request to dismiss the Wilkins case, ruling that the central claims in the case had legal merit and should move forward. But now the City is asking Judge Rowland to suspend the Wilkins case indefinitely as it attempts to bring regulation of traffic stops under the consent decree reform process. The City made this request despite the overwhelming community testimony, in a June 11 hearing on the consent decree, opposing the idea of expanding the consent decree to regulate CPD’s traffic stop policies and practices.

CPD’s mass traffic stop program most recently came under public scrutiny following the shooting death of Dexter Reed at the hands of a CPD tactical team during a traffic stop. According to COPA, the plain-clothes officers fired 96 shots at Mr. Reed, a Black man with a disability. Soon after, the City sought to modify the consent decree to address CPD’s traffic stop policies and practices. But the City has met a mere 7% of the consent decree’s requirements in more than 5 years. And the consent decree process largely has shut out members of the community who want to have a say over public safety strategies in their neighborhoods. The Wilkins plaintiffs asked to intervene in the consent decree case to ensure that their lawsuit seeking to end CPD’s mass traffic stop program was not affected by any proceedings under the consent decree. But CPD’s lawyers asked the court for nearly two months to respond to the Wilkins plaintiffs’ motion. 

“CPD should not be able to use the consent decree process to shield itself from detailed scrutiny of the discriminatory mass traffic stop program,” added Block. “For many years, police in Chicago have stopped Black and Brown drivers disproportionately compared to white drivers, based on the false stereotype that these drivers are more likely to be involved in crime. This needs to stop immediately. It is unconstitutional and it does not increase public safety.”

At the June 11 hearing on traffic stops and the consent decree, the ACLU noted that CPD could end its mass traffic stop program voluntarily today. For example, CPD could end pretextual traffic stops, ban stop quotas, and cease making stops for minor registration and equipment infractions. 

“CPD has had the power to end discriminatory traffic stops today,” added Block.  “They don’t need to wait. They should stop dragging their feet in court. And they should not use one court to try to deny our clients their day in another court.”

A further hearing in Wilkins v. Chicago will take place on Wednesday, June 26 at 2:00pm in Room 1225 of the Dirksen Federal Building. The Wilkins Plaintiffs are represented by the ACLU of Illinois and the law firm Arnold & Porter.