Civil Rights Groups Sue Over Buffalo Police Checkpoints and Discriminatory Traffic Enforcement
So-Called “Traffic Safety” Checkpoints and Tickets Target People of Color to Raise Revenue for City, Lawsuit Alleges
BUFFALO, NY – Today, civil rights groups filed a class action lawsuit against the City of Buffalo over unconstitutional and racially discriminatory vehicle checkpoints and traffic ticketing practices. According to the lawsuit, the Buffalo Police Department deployed unconstitutional vehicle checkpoints in Black and Latinx neighborhoods, resulting in massive over ticketing of these communities—and significant revenue for the City budget.
“For more than five years, the BPD systematically targeted low-income Black and Latinx neighborhoods and residents for aggressive and punitive traffic enforcement,” said Claudia Wilmer, Senior Attorney at the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. “Our analysis shows that 91.4 percent of checkpoints occurred in communities of color, and race was a driving factor in the locations of these checkpoints.”
Attorneys say the City used checkpoints and traffic violations to harvest revenue. Income from traffic violations increased a staggering 92 percent after the checkpoints were implemented. The number of tickets issued and the corresponding revenue to the City increased dramatically again in 2015 after New York State authorized Buffalo to keep all of the revenue from traffic tickets as a form of “fiscal relief” to taxpayers. Moreover, officers often issued multiple tickets for a single violation. One class member received four tickets for having tinted windows—one ticket for each window.
“Buffalo’s use of checkpoints and aggressive traffic ticketing is part of a long history of abusive and discriminatory policing in poor communities of color—and then making those communities pay the price for it,” said Darius Charney, a senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City. “These practices are unlawful. Buffalo should not be attempting to balance its budget on the backs of Black and Latinx people.”
Those who have been stopped report that the checkpoints, which often block off certain streets and intersections and can last for as long as 45 minutes, severely burden their most basic activities, such as going to work, dropping children at school, grocery shopping, and attending medical appointments and religious services.
“The consequences of BPD’s actions have been devastating,” said Keisha Williams, Staff Attorney with the Western New York Law Center. “Thousands have had their licenses suspended because they could not pay the substantial fines that have accrued from the multiple tickets they have been issued at checkpoints and other traffic stops. Some folks have even been threatened with jail and arrested during the stops.”
“For years, BPD operated a checkpoint in front of my house almost every Sunday,” said Dorothea Franklin, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “I could not go in or out of my driveway or move freely around my community. It takes you back to the times when there was no freedom.”
“Despite years of complaints from community members and advocates, the City has continued to blanket the East Side and minority neighborhoods with aggressive traffic enforcement and residential checkpoints,” said Anjana Malhotra, cooperating counsel, who filed a study with the New York Attorney General challenging the BPD’s discriminatory and illegal policing practices. “As a result, the most common interaction Buffalo residents of color have with police are baseless, illegal and costly traffic stops for nothing more than driving to work, church, or taking their children to and from school, undermining trust, sharpening racial disparities, limiting access to opportunities, and erasing any countenance of innocence afforded to white residents of Buffalo.”