Mississippi police roadblocks violate rights, lawsuit says


JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — Couple LaQuenza Morgan and Lauren Rhoades say police officers conduct roadblocks in their mostly black, working-class neighborhood in Mississippi’s mostly black capital every few months, usually during the busiest times of the day when people are walking to and from work.

He’s black and she’s white, and they said the officers treat them differently. Rhoades, who works at a tourist spot in Jackson, said she tries to have her ID ready to show officers and they often don’t even look at it.

“They’re just going to be like, ‘Go ahead, go through,'” she said Thursday.

Morgan, a banker, said he couldn’t recall officials ever flagging him down without checking his license. Asked if he thinks he’ll face more scrutiny because he’s black, Morgan said: “Oh yeah yeah yeah. 100%.”

Jackson — which has a black mayor, a black police chief and a mostly black police force — has used roadblocks for years, with multiple officers stopping vehicles to look for driver’s licenses and car insurance, and to try to locate people wanted on arrest warrants . During a press conference on February 14, Democratic Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba described them as “useful tools” for the police department.

“These roadblocks are important when we have communities that have been plagued by carjacking, that have been plagued by various forms of violence,” Lumumba said.

Morgan and Rhoades are among several named plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed Thursday by the Mississippi Center for Justice to challenge the constitutionality of police roadblocks in Jackson.

The class action lawsuit says that Jackson police are violating people’s constitutional right to unreasonable search and seizure by using roadblocks in majority-Black and low-income neighborhoods to try to catch suspects.

Police launched their latest roadblocks in January in an initiative they are calling the Ticket Arrest Tow.

“By routinely stopping people in certain crime-fighting neighborhoods without reason to believe they have committed crimes, (the Initiative) treats them as wanted suspects when traveling to and from school or work or for other legitimate reasons.” , according to the lawsuit .

A spokesman for the mayor’s office, Justin Vicory, said Thursday that the city would not comment on pending lawsuits. He referred to Lumumba’s February 14 remarks about roadblocks.

Last Friday, WLBT-TV reported that Jackson Police Chief James Davis said the checkpoints were set up in areas with high rates of violent crime.

“People think they’re roadblocks, and people misunderstood that we’re targeting a specific group of people,” Davis said. “Our intention is to get wanted people off the streets. We have outstanding warrants seeking people again for murder, aggravated assault, theft car, rape and shooting from within the car.”

The police department said more than 100 arrests had been made for crimes at checkpoints since January.

Mississippi Center for Justice President and CEO Vangela M. Wade said that not having a driver’s license, car registration, or liability insurance was “not indicative of criminal conduct or intent.” She said she understands that the police chief and the people of Jackson wanted to curb crime.

“Our lawsuit is not intended to distract from the city’s efforts, but to ensure that everyone’s rights are respected and that unfairly disruptive measures are not imposed on black-majority and low-income neighborhoods,” Wade said in a news release Thursday.

Morgan and Rhoades said the roadblocks don’t make them feel safer and they wish the city would spend money on other services. They have a young daughter, and they said their neighborhood park has rickety bridges that are dangerous for strollers.

Morgan also said poor people could face cascading problems if they are caught without a license during a roadblock. You may have to miss work to get a new license or have an outdated one reinstated.

“It can throw your finances into a world of pain,” he said.


Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.


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