In Lawsuit Over Discriminatory Policing in Buffalo, Civil Rights Groups File for Class Certification, Submit Expert Reports 

For Immediate Release: May 30, 2024

Buffalo, NY – In a lawsuit against the City of Buffalo challenging unconstitutional and racially discriminatory traffic enforcement practices by the Buffalo Police Department (BPD), legal and civil rights groups filed a motion and brief for class certification yesterday. According to the case, these aggressive and punitive practices targeting Black and Latinx communities, which were designed to harvest revenue for the City budget, violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Aamendment of the Constitution and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. 

Certification would allow the case to proceed as a class action lawsuit. The class includes all Black and Latinx drivers in Buffalo who were ticketed or arrested at a BPD checkpoint since June 2015 or who received multiple tickets for having tinted windows in a practice where officers issue a separate ticket for each tinted window on a vehicle. One class also includes all Black and Latinx drivers in Buffalo who have been or could be subjected to traffic stops, and seeks structural remedial, accountability, and oversight measures to ensure an end to these harmful and discriminatory practices. 

“These blatantly unconstitutional practices targeting Black and Latinx residents are a part of Buffalo’s long and sordid history of discrimination and are designed to harvest revenue for the City budget off the backs of Buffalo’s poorest residents,” said Anjana Malhotra, Senior Attorney at the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. “We are requesting the court certify our proposed classes so that we can seek relief, system-wide reform, and a voice for the minority communities whose civil rights were and continue to be violated by the City of Buffalo and the Buffalo Police Department on a daily basis.”

The lawsuit was first filed in June 2018 on behalf of Buffalo-based advocacy group Black Love Resists in the Rust and thousands of individuals by the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Western New York Law Center, and the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP.

The groups also submitted to the court three expert reports detailing patterns of discrimination by the Buffalo Police Department:

“These expert reports confirm what Black residents of Buffalo have been ringing alarm bells about for decades – that their disenfranchisement by the City has been intentional and iterative and that BPD cannot be trusted to police themselves,” said Mikaila Hernández, attorney and Bertha Justice Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Without court intervention and oversight, Black and Latinx residents will continue to have their rights violated by these harmful police practices.”

In 2013, the City of Buffalo established a crime suppression program of traffic checkpoints through which BPD officers stopped Black and Latinx motorists without any suspicion of wrongdoing, attempted to develop evidence of criminal activity, and issued tickets for as many alleged traffic violations as possible. The BPD ran over 1,600 checkpoints and placed them in predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhoods seven times as often as in predominantly white neighborhoods. In addition, from 2012 to 2022, Black and Latinx drivers accounted for 86.9% of tinted window citations issued during traffic stops in cases where race could be determined. From 2020-2022, the BPD issued more than three times as many stop receipts for stops that did not lead to a citation in BPD districts that had the highest percent minority population as in the BPD district that had the lowest minority population. 

In November 2022, sworn testimony of five retired members of the Buffalo Police Department revealed that Buffalo police regularly used racial slurs when referring to Black members of the public. In this litigation, a former BPD Strike Force lieutenant revealed that he heard “probably every officer” use the N-word while at the BPD, but never reported it and no one was disciplined. In addition, a study conducted by WBFO revealed that Black drivers in Buffalo are over three times as likely to get pulled over by Buffalo Police as white drivers; WIVB made similar findings.. 

For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.

The National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ) advances racial and economic justice for low-income families, individuals, and communities across the country through ground-breaking impact litigation, policy advocacy, and support for grassroots organizing. Founded in 1965, NCLEJ protects access to critical benefits such as food stamps, Medicaid, and childcare; empowers low-wage workers, advocates for people with disabilities; and fights unlawful debt collection. 

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at Follow the Center for Constitutional Rights on social media: Center for Constitutional Rights on Facebook, @theCCR on Twitter, and ccrjustice on Instagram.

The Western New York Law Center is a non-profit legal organization in Buffalo. We provide free, direct legal services and impact litigation throughout Western New York, and work through coalitions to promote economic and social justice in our area.