Michigan United files FOIA request, health complaint
The arrest of a black woman who was waiting in the wrong place has raised questions of racial profiling by St. Clair Shores police department. Michigan United filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act to determine if people of color are more closely scrutinized, and subsequently arrested and fined, than white people. Amber York, a spokesperson for the multiracial, social justice organization said “In March 2015, the Department of Justice clearly established that the pattern of arrests and citations in Ferguson, Missouri was driven by revenue production–not public safety. We have good reason to believe that’s the same thing that’s happening here in St. Clair Shores, Michigan.”
Earlier this month, Rai Lanier was waiting for a carryout order and didn’t notice that she was in a handicap parking space next to the one for restaurant customers. Despite the car still being in gear, she was given a parking ticket instead of a warning. The officer then went a step further and also did a background check on Lanier, finding old ticket on a car she no longer owns then placing her under arrest.
“It was like a bad dream I couldn’t wake up from.” said Lanier on the steps of the police station. “One minute I’m waiting for my food, the next minute I’m being frisked and searched in front of a bunch of men. I was too stunned to even be angry at the time.”
Lanier said she was made to wait in conditions that were unsanitary. “Besides the toilet being in the middle of the jail cell and the toilet paper soaked, it looked like someone literally smeared feces on the wall.” said Lanier. “They didn’t just make me feel like a criminal for a parking ticket, they made me feel sub-human.”
Besides the FOIA request, Michigan United has also filed a complaint with the city of St. Clair Shores for the unsanitary condition of the city’s jail cells.
Several members of Michigan United showed their support at the Thursday press conference. “As a white woman, I have been let off many times, with only a verbal warning or friendly reminder, for things like an expired license plate or an overdue parking ticket,” said Laura de Palma. ”Our criminal justice system is racist, unjust, and unfair. I am speaking out against the explicit targeting and harassment by law enforcement of people of color.”
Lanier said she began to suspect that she was being treated differently because of her race when her boyfriend, who is white, showed up to bail her out. “The St. Clair Shores officer told me, in no uncertain terms that it would be over $500 for me to get out of their jail and another $1,800 to get out of Troy where the old ticket was.” Lanier said. “But once Seth showed up, Troy didn’t want me anymore and the bail was magically cut in half. I can’t help but think what it would have cost if my mother came to get me.”
Elder Leslie Mathews, the faith coordinator for Michigan United who is working towards criminal justice reform, said “We have never truly been allowed to fully integrate into the American society. We can become doctors, lawyers, professional athletes, even the President of the United States, but as long as our skin is black or brown, we face intense scrutiny by law enforcement. Calling the police nowadays for help can get you killed. Having faulty car equipment can escalate into loss of life as well. Being parked in a handicapped space can get you arrested and thrown into jail. Just being black in America seems to be a crime.”