The Michigan arm of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice calling for an investigation into the Detroit Police Department’s practice of forcing homeless people into vans and taking them “for a ride” miles out of town, where the cops then desert them.
In many cases, police would offer homeless loiterers a ride to a local shelter, church or warming center, but would instead drive them outside the city limits, tell them to empty their pockets of any money and abandon them.
“DPD’s practice of essentially kidnapping homeless people and abandoning them miles away from the neighborhoods they know — with no means for a safe return — is inhumane, callous and illegal,” said Sarah Mehta, ACLU of Michigan staff attorney. “The city’s desire to hide painful reminders of our economic struggles cannot justify discriminating against the poor, banishing them from their city, and endangering their lives.”
The complaint stems from a year-long investigation by the ACLU, which began after the organization began receiving complaints that police were essentially “deporting” homeless people hanging out in the touristy Greektown entertainment district because they were bad for area businesses.
That’s an understandable reason to want homeless people to take themselves somewhere else. Homeless people don’t attract a lot of sympathy, whether from hardworking, productive members of society, in general, or from anyone, in particular, who’s ever tried to run a business in an urban area where vagrancy is a problem. Individualists who rightly hold others in society to the same standard by which they themselves live often give homelessness no quarter.
But if there’s a Constitutional way to deal with homelessness, this isn’t it. Lacking a criminal pretense for taking the homeless into custody, Detroit police innovated, devising an unConstitutional “solution” that works only for as long as it takes the transplanted, stranded victims to find their way back to the exact same spot.
“The ACLU’s letter to Detroit documents the experiences of five individuals who were doing nothing illegal, yet were subjected to this abusive and unlawful treatment on multiple occasions,” the organization said in a press release. To read all five (and then some), go here, but here’s a taste:
Andrew Sheehan, 37, was “taken for a ride” at least four times since December 2011. Andrew has been homeless on and off for several years because of a substance abuse problem. He has since completed a drug rehabilitation program and is now working, living in an apartment, and continuing to attend religious services at Saints Peter and Paul Church in Greektown. Andrew has been picked up several times while sitting on a manhole in Greektown to keep warm. Police have driven him anywhere from five to seven miles away. On one occasion officers said they were taking Sheehan to a shelter, but instead dropped him off at the boundary between Detroit and River Rouge on Fort Street – eight miles from where he was picked up.
According to the ACLU complaint, the Detroit PD’s tactics represent repeated violations of the Constitutional right to due process and the right to be free of unreasonable search and seizures. The ACLU also argues that by arresting, detaining and forcibly removing homeless people without probable cause, the police department is also in violation of a 2003 consent order from the Department of Justice.