BPD target of federal racial discrimination lawsuit

Sep 6, 2017

A group of local organizations and individuals led by the local chapter of Black Lives Matter is suing the Buffalo Police Department in federal court, charging racial discrimination. The lawsuit is based upon two years of research by law students from the University at Buffalo and Cornell University showing statistical disparities in racial treatment.


A Buffalo Police car turns on its lights behind a car stopped at the base of the Skyway.
Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

The lawsuit charges that from drug arrests to traffic tickets, Buffalo Police are much more likely to charge people of color than others. That is a charge denied by mayoral and police spokesman Michael DeGeorge.

"The City has not seen the claim, but any allegation of discrimination is completely false," DeGeorge said.

West Side resident Brenda Miller-Herndon said police constantly show they do not care who they mistreat.

"My son said, 'Ma, can you please come up here because the police got me. They got me stretched out because I was on the corner waiting for you, 'cause I told him to meet me at the corner," she said. "So I guess cause he fits the profile of what drug dealers or whatever look like. I called the police when I saw a woman getting sh*t beat out of her. Sorry, but they almost arrested me because they told me I should have minded my own business."

Miller-Herndon said police have actively discouraged her from filing complaints about crimes she has seen.

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

The heart of the report charges there has been retaliation against those who oppose police checkpoints, including allegedly violating the rights of an East Side resident who objected to constant checkpoints in front of her house. Doretha Franklin told a late afternoon news conference Tuesday that police came on her property to issue tickets.

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

"This is about discrimination. This is about violating your amendments. That's what this is about," Franklin said. "I don't think anything in life is fair. What I do know is that there is injustice in it. There's amendments that should be upheld and it's not being upheld at these checkpoints. It's a violation of them."

The study was led by UB Law Professor Anjana Malhotra. She said Buffalo is reviving the "broken windows" approach to policing, a strategy thrown out by federal courts as unconstitutional.

"2014 is the best example," she said. "The BPD was running daily checkpoints every day, throughout the East Side, Lower West Side and North Buffalo. They hired 70 more police officers that year, added more cars. In 2014, you have the highest murder rate since 2006."

The lawsuit also seeks an investigation by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman into the operations of Buffalo Police, especially the claimed targeting of minority residents.