ACLU of MD and Civil Rights Groups Decry Further Stalling on Landmark Racial Profiling Settlement

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
February 5, 2003 12:00 am

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ANNAPOLIS, MD – After state officials here once again put off consideration of a negotiated settlement in a landmark racial profiling lawsuit, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and the NAACP said today that they are disappointed and are considering “next steps.” The class-action lawsuit brought national attention to the issue of “driving while black or brown.”

“It is astonishing to me that this agreement hasn’t been signed with enthusiasm by the Board of Public Works,” said Reginald Shuford, an ACLU national staff attorney who has been involved in negotiations with the state. “We have clients who have waited too long to be put off any further.”

The ACLU’s lawsuit, Wilkins et al. v. Maryland State Police, was filed on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and several individual motorists.

The final settlement package — which was several years in the making — was scheduled for a final vote on January 8, but incoming Governor Robert Ehrlich and Edward Norris, his choice to lead the Maryland State Police, asked for more time to “review” the settlement before signing off at the Board of Public Works. Both police and NAACP representatives understood then that the matter would be taken up at today’s meeting. However, any discussion of the settlement was missing from the board’s agenda.

“Politics are prevailing over justice,” said Edythe Flemings Hall, State President of the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches. “Why is Governor Ehrlich and his appointees dragging their feet on ending racial profiling in Maryland?”

The state police themselves were heavily involved in the years of negotiations that ended in October of last year when a settlement addressing police procedures was reached, the ACLU noted. The settlement was overseen by U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grimm, following an earlier ruling by U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake in which she found evidence that the Maryland State Police had engaged in a pattern and practice of unconstitutional racial profiling on state highways. Basic elements of the settlement are similar to plans adopted in 2000 and 1999 by the police in Montgomery County, Maryland, and the New Jersey State Police in agreements with the U. S. Department of Justice to curb racial profiling there.

“I have been fighting to end racial profiling in Maryland for ten years and I will not be put off by procedural gamesmanship,” said Robert Wilkins, an attorney who was the original plaintiff in the lawsuit alleging racial profiling. “Every day that this settlement is not signed is another day of racial discrimination being condoned in the state of Maryland.”

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