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SPLC urges Mobile Police Department to stop unconstitutional checkpoints

Mobile police likely violated people’s Constitutional rights when they conducted checkpoints that targeted crime in predominantly black neighborhoods – a practice that the department must stop, the Southern Poverty Law Center said in a letter to Mobile Police Chief Lawrence Battiste.

The letter sent this week describes how the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law and its prohibition of illegal search and seizure were likely violated when the Mobile Police Department set up the roadblocks on May 24 and 25 as part of the Operation City H.E.A.T. initiative. The SPLC warned that it may take further action if the discriminatory checkpoints continue.

“These roadblocks, which targeted low-income, predominantly black neighborhoods, discriminate against people of color by singling them out as a group for criminal activity,” said Ebony Howard, SPLC associate legal director. “We understand the police department’s goal to prevent crime, but law enforcement must be fairly administered, without infringing on any individual’s constitutionally protected rights.”

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits illegal search and seizure. The 14th Amendment, ratified to protect African Americans following slavery, guarantees equal protection under the law.

The purpose of the checkpoints was to target areas with high crime rates, according to a media report. Checkpoints, however, may be used only for limited circumstances, including sobriety checks, and in other circumstances where there is probable cause that a crime has been committed, the letter states.

Numerous tickets were issued and at least 10 people – 90 percent of them African American – were arrested on May 24. The number of arrests on May 25 has not been reported.