Thursday, January 11, 2001

Bias suits may widen in dispute

Separate groups allege racial profiling by police

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The city of Cincinnati and its police division may now face two separate class-action lawsuits that allege racial profiling.

        The Cincinnati Black United Front, the grass-roots organization known for its boycotts of downtown restaurants and businesses, has broken away from the American Civil Liberties Union's planned suit. Instead, the group will work with lawyer Ken Lawson on his plan to merge seven or eight existing lawsuits — with more complaints from other citizens — into one class-action suit.

        Mr. Lawson said he will be meeting with people who have stories of alleged racial profiling over the next three Saturdays.

        The Rev. Damon Lynch III, president of Black United Front, said he moved his efforts from the ACLU because Mr. Lawson was already well into the process.

        “The initial goal was for everybody to work together, Kenny Lawson, the ACLU and the front,” the Rev. Mr. Lynch said. “But Kenny went out and moved ahead on it and we joined forces with him.

        “It was just a matter of timing.”

        Scott Greenwood, general counsel for the ACLU of Ohio, said the organization will continue its lawsuit as well.

        “We think the problem of racial profiling is so serious that it requires a systemic (change),” he said. “We'll file the lawsuit when we're ready.”

        The ACLU suit likely will not seek damages, whereas Mr. Lawson's will. More important to the ACLU is changing the system, Mr. Greenwood said.

        While Mr. Lawson wants injunctive relief, he said individual damages are important, too.

        “They can't give us back our pride,” he said. “It's the only choice we've got.”

        Mr. Greenwood said he thinks it's better to start from scratch rather than use other cases already in progress, but that it's important the African-American community not be further divided on the issue.

        “If for some reason they want to work with whoever they want to work with, that's fine with me,” he said. “This is one of the top issues in which the ACLU is involved nationally.

        “We're still pressing forward.”

        Federal lawsuits filed by the ACLU have prompted dramatic change in police departments around the country, specifically in Pittsburgh, where a 1996 lawsuit by the organization prompted court-ordered police monitoring.

        The Pittsburgh decree resulted in the city hiring an independent auditor to document all traffic stops and arrests, conduct annual evaluations and train officers in cultural diversity, integrity and ethics.

        The ACLU also filed suit in Maryland, alleging that state police officers singled out cars driven by black and Hispanic people and pulled them over to search for drugs.

        There are more personal stories of people in Cincinnati who have complaints, Mr. Greenwood said — enough for two lawsuits.

        The ACLU will be taking out an ad soon in the Cincinnati Herald to look for people who think they have been improperly treated by police because they're minorities.

        “I think there are still others,” Mr. Greenwood said. “Our goal should be to change the practices of the police division.”


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