NYCLU Asks Supreme Court to Review Case in Which Police Targeted Entire Minority Community

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
May 21, 2001 12:00 am

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NEW YORK–In a case raising important questions about racial profiling by law enforcement officials, the New York Civil Liberties Union has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a notorious 1992 police sweep of minorities in the upstate community of Oneonta.

“In our society, no person should be singled out for police scrutiny because of race, and it is deeply disturbing that the entire minority community of Oneonta was treated this way,”” said NYCLU Interim Executive Director Donna Lieberman.

The NYCLU’s petition, which the national ACLU and the Albany law firm of Whiteman Osterman & Hanna joined, was sent to the Supreme Court on Friday. It asks the Court to review and reverse a lower court ruling that effectively endorses race-based sweeps of minority communities when a suspect description includes racial information.

In September 1992, police officials in Oneonta said they had received a report that a crime had been committed by a young, black male who may have cut his hand or forearm during the incident. In response to this report, state and local police officials targeted for questioning and physical examination every black male at the State University of New York, College of Oneonta, the campus of which was located in the vicinity of the crime.

When this action did not result in an arrest, the state and local police sought to question and examine the hundreds of non-white residents in the Oneonta area over a five-day period and did so solely on the basis of their race and in disregard of the nonracial information included in the description of the suspect. Some African American women were even questioned.

According to a New York State Police Investigator, the objective of the sweep was “to examine the hands of all the black people in the community.”

A federal appeals court recently rejected the claims of minority residents of Oneonta caught up in the sweep that the action amounted to racial discrimination in violation of the federal Constitution. It is this decision that the NYCLU’s petition asks the Court to review.

A decision by the Court about whether to accept the case for review is expected this summer.

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