ACLU, Civil Rights Groups and Maryland Officials Reach Landmark Racial Profiling Settlement
ANNAPOLIS, MD--After months of delays and false starts, the Maryland Board of Public Works today approved a historic settlement ending the practice of racial profiling on the state's highways, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland announced.
Today's settlement resolves the ACLU's lawsuit, Wilkins et al. v. Maryland State Police, which was filed on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and several individual motorists. The class-action lawsuit brought national attention to the issue of "driving while black or brown."
"Today is a joyous day for justice in Maryland," said Susan Goering, Executive Director of the ACLU of Maryland. "Ending racial profiling has been a top priority since the day in 1992 when Robert Wilkins called the ACLU to report that his constitutional rights had been violated during a traffic stop. That phone call started a national conversation on racial profiling and police practices that has led to this tremendous victory today."
Consideration of the final settlement at the Board of Public Works meeting last January was put off at the request of then governor-elect Robert Ehrlich. After review, the Governor and his attorneys requested modest changes to the agreement, which had been negotiated between representatives with the NAACP and Maryland State Police officials over the course of three years.
"It's a new day in Maryland," said Herbert Lindsey, President of the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches. "Motorists in Maryland will no longer be automatically under suspicion by law enforcement because of their appearance."
Governor Robert Ehrlich and State Treasurer Nancy Kopp voted for the settlement. The third member of the Board of Public Works, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, voted against the settlement.
"I am personally gratified by this resolution," said Robert Wilkins, an attorney in the case and the original plaintiff who was subjected to a humiliating stop and search by Maryland State Police while driving through western Maryland on his way home from a family funeral. "It's been a long journey but a worthy one if it means that no one will have to experience the frustration and indignity of being racially profiled."
An ad-hoc committee of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus, led by Senator Lisa Gladden, played an instrumental role in the agreement being signed today. Delegates Melony Griffith, Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, Obie Patterson, Howard "Pete" Rawlings, and Senator Joan Carter Conway all labored for passage during what many considered a grueling legislative session.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs are William Mertens of Asbill Moffitt & Boss, Chtd., Jonathan Guy of Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman, Robert Wilkins (also a plaintiff in the lawsuit), ACLU National Staff Counsel Reginald T. Shuford, and Debbie Jeon of the ACLU of Maryland.