DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan says Detroit police are removing homeless people from the popular Greektown entertainment district downtown and dropping them off miles away — sometimes outside the city.
Following a year-long investigation, the ACLU filed a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department and sent a letter to Detroit police demanding an end to what they call a “disturbing practice.”
“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. A person who has lost his home has not lost his right to be treated with dignity.”
The organization says it started receiving complaints last year and that the homeless are told they are not welcome in Greektown, which is popular with visitors to Detroit. The people are then forced in to vans, driven away and then deserted.
Mehta told WWJ Newsradio 950 that what police are doing is not just illegal, but inhumane.
“They’re being approached and harassed by police, not necessarily for anything they’re doing, but just because of the way that they look,” Mehta said. “Often they’re being dropped off late at night in neighborhoods that they don’t know. Police often take any money they have out of their pockets and force them to walk back to Detroit, with no guarantee of any safety.”
Detroit Police Chief Chester Logan said he will look into it.
“At the present time, the Detroit Police Department has not received a copy of the complaint that has been filed,” said Logan, in a statement. “Therefore, it would be inappropriate to provide further comment without reviewing the specific allegations.”
The ACLU listed the stories of five people who said they were doing nothing illegal when they were “taken for a ride” by Detroit police. (Read about them here).
“One of the warming centers drew our attention to it,” ACLU spokeswoman Rana Elmir told the Associated Press. “We then spoke to the impacted individuals. There are many more stories.”
Andrew Sheehan, 37, said it has happened to him at least four times since December 2011.
“I had my back turned to him and I did not see him approaching, and the first thing he did was he kicked me. He didn’t identify himself as an officer and he kicked me and told me to get up,” said Sheehan, in a video posted by the ACLU. “I asked him if I was free to go. He told me no.”
On one occasion, Sheehan said officers were taking him to a shelter, but instead dropped him off at the boundary between Detroit and River Rouge, about 8 miles away.
“If you don’t have money, or if you’re poor of if you’re, whatever, they’ve … shown is that you’re not important — you’re not worth protecting, and we’re definitely not going to serve you. We’ll serve you up a field trip,” Sheehan said.
Another man told the ACLU he was picked up several times by police and on at least two occasions left on the city’s east side. Another said he was dumped in Dearborn, west of Detroit.
Michigan Thomas, Outreach Coordinator at the Ss. Peter and Paul Jesuit Church Warming Center, said many of these people will then spend hours walking back to shelters, warming centers, and churches where they can get a hot meal.
“You don’t know where you’re going; you don’t know where you’re ending up. Maybe when you get there you’re abused in some way,” said Thoma. “What would that feel like?”
In 2010, nearly 19,000 people were homeless in the Detroit area, according to the Neighborhood Service Organization, a nonprofit human services group.
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