LOS ANGELES - The ACLU/SC and the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP have filed a claim for damages on behalf of African American community college students stopped and searched by police on the basis of their race.
On Oct. 17, 2007, 14 Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies walked onto the campus of Los Angeles Trade Technical College (L.A. Trade-Tech) and detained 33 black students and one Latino student who attempted to take pictures of the incident. The male students were searched and the entire group, which included four women, was forced to sit on the ground in the middle of campus with their hands behind their heads for 45 minutes to well over an hour. They were harassed by the deputies and humiliated in front of their faculty, administrators, and fellow students but never told why they were being treated like criminals.
While Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department officials say the action was part of a search for illegal drug dealing on campus, an investigation conducted by the Los Angeles Community College District, which oversees the school, concluded that the student roundup constituted racial profiling.
'The sheriffs' actions took us back to the bad old days, when police believed they could stop and harass persons based on skin color,' said Catherine Lhamon, racial justice director of the ACLU/SC. 'Through this action, we hope to bring the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department into the twentieth century, and have them repudiate rank racial profiling.'
The complaint states that deputies were rude and threatening to students. Several of the students who were stopped are basketball players for the school, but their coach was turned away by deputies when he attempted to intervene on their behalf.
'Having everybody walk past you while you are being searched by the police makes you look like you're up to no good, but the opposite is true. I'm just trying to go to school; I don't want to be treated like a criminal,' said Robert Summers, one of the detained L.A. Trade-Tech students.
L.A. Trade-Tech is the city's oldest community college with a racially diverse student body and a rich history in the city's African American community. Last week Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke at the school.