Columbia Professor Files Civil Rights Suit Over Traffic Stop

October 19, 2010

Columbia professor Marc Lamont Hill has filed a Federal Civil Rights lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia and individual police officers over a June traffic stop. The suit alleges that officers “intentionally used excessive force . . . which was unreasonable, unjustifiable, and unconstitutional” when they pulled him over. Specifically, the complaint alleges that Hill was stopped for no reason, ordered to exit his vehicle, and forcibly pulled from the vehicle. The police searched his pockets and his car, while refusing to explain why he was being detained. Eventually the officer did tell Hill that he was pulled over for unlawfully discharging a passenger and blocking the street.

The City of Philadelphia is being sued because ” the Constitutional violations suffered by Plaintiff were the result of the City’s policies, procedures, customs and practices of allowing its officers to make stops without reasonable suspicion, and to use unreasonable and excessive force thereby violating the civil rights of those with whom they come into contact…”

My initial reaction? Business as usual in the inner city. Hill was pulled over for DWB-“Driving While Black,” which still justifies a traffic stop in many cities and towns.

On the other hand, it doesn’t seem like Hall really suffered much physical injury. Also, the officer, Richard DeCoatsworth, was previously severely injured in the line of duty and is considered a hero cop, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

I’m not here to bash police officers. They have a very difficult job, and for the most part they do it well. I also wasn’t there that night, so I don’t know what happened.

I know some will think, “Here we go again. Maybe Obama will invite these two to the white house for a beer.”

Still, there is a little thing called the Constitution.  And it’s not O.K. to pull over a nice car (a BMW in this case) just because a black man is driving it. That statement may seem self-evident, but there are many otherwise good cops around the country who don’t agree.

I’m an old white guy, but I was once a young, bearded, long-haired law student living in a bad neighborhood in L.A.  I remember getting pulled over by cops who drew their guns and scared the @$!%* out of me. I had done nothing but drive a car with out-of-state plates in a bad neighborhood. The police never explained why I was pulled over beyond saying I was “shifting aggressively.” The incident ended peacefully. I was not physically hurt. But twenty years later I remember it.

We all know this is a common occurrence for young black men. It’s no secret. It’s been talked about, written about, and even joked about. But believe me, it’s not funny when it happens to you.

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