Lawsuit against Buffalo police seeks class action status for minorities ticketed at checkpoints

This article was originally published in Buffalo News. Read it here.

Lawyers for plaintiffs in a discrimination lawsuit against the Buffalo Police Department have filed a motion to achieve class action status including Black and Latino drivers ticketed or arrested by the department at traffic checkpoints.

The lawsuit, first filed by the group Black Love Resists in the Rust in June 2018, alleges that the Buffalo Police Department used checkpoints to target drivers in predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods for the purpose of creating revenue for the city. The suit alleges that 75% of driving and vehicle citations between January 2012 and December 2022 were issued to minority individuals, despite the minority population of Buffalo making up less than 50% of the population, meaning minorities received 3.2 times as many tickets as nonminority residents relative to their population.

Anjana Malhotra is a senior attorney at the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, a not-for-profit organization handling the lawsuit. She said the civil action seeks justice for the people who have been unfairly targeted by the Buffalo Police Department and to prevent more people from being targeted in the future.

“In addition, (the lawsuit) seeks systemwide relief for every minority driver in in the City of Buffalo, given the ongoing racial disparities and very strong evidence of ongoing racial profiling and the city’s deliberate indifference, the racial profiling and bias that so many Buffalonians face on a daily basis at the hands of the Buffalo Police Department,” Malhotra said.

Mike DeGeorge, the Buffalo police spokesman, said in a text message that the department does not comment on ongoing litigation.

DeGeorge told The News in 2017, after complaints of discriminatory practices were first reported to the U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York, that the Police Department had made significant reforms that exceed state standards.

“As we said before the complaint was filed, any allegation of discrimination is completely false,” DeGeorge said at the time.

The motion in the case seeks to include three new classifications of people as plaintiffs:

The suit alleges that the Buffalo Police Department placed checkpoints in predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods seven times more often than in predominantly white neighborhoods.

Malhotra said the practices are clear violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments, as well as the Civil Rights Act.

“They located checkpoints in areas of high crime, where there had been gang incidents or other incidents,” Malhotra said. “It’s very apparent from emails, documents and even testimony, the Buffalo Police Department was implementing checkpoints for an impermissible Fourth Amendment practice, which is targeting Black and Latino drivers for suspicionless checkpoints based on crime, which the Supreme Court has held unconstitutional.”