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Black people in a Mississippi county are ‘under a permanent state of siege,’ according to an ACLU lawsuit

Plaintiffs Quinnetta Manning and Steven Smith speak at ACLU of Mississippi headquarters in Jackson, Miss. (AP)
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It was 7 a.m. last June when six sheriff’s deputies stormed into the Manning family home in Canton, Miss., according to a new lawsuit. They demanded that the Mannings sign witness statements for a crime in their neighborhood they claimed not to have seen.

When Khadafy Manning, 35, refused, deputies allegedly handcuffed, choked and beat the man, who uses a cane because of a nerve condition. They called him “Mr. Cripple,” his wife said, and proceeded to drag him out of the house, down the stairs and into a patrol car, beating him until he wrote a witness statement.

Khadafy and Quinnetta Manning are among those suing the sheriff’s department in Madison County, claiming the department used unconstitutional checkpoints, unlawful searches of homes, and excessive force as part of what they call “a coordinated top-down program” to illegally target black residents.

The lawsuit, filed Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, seeks a court order to stop the sheriff’s department from using such tactics. It also asks that a civilian board review complaints against the department. Ten black residents — men and women ages 27 to 62 — are plaintiffs in the case.

Some black residents are so afraid of being pulled over or stopped at a checkpoint that they avoid leaving their homes, the lawsuit says.

“In effect the policing program has placed the Black community of Madison County under a permanent state of siege,” the lawsuit states.

Sheriff Randy Tucker, who is white and has been in office since 2012, would not immediately comment Monday because he had not seen the lawsuit, spokesman Heath Hall told the Associated Press.

“For decades, black people in Madison County have been dealing with the constant barrage by the Madison County Sheriff’s Department,” ACLU Mississippi executive director Jennifer Riley-Collins said at a news conference Monday at the ACLU office in Jackson.

Roughly 57 percent of Madison County residents are white, and about 38 percent are black, the most recent Census estimates show. Home to about 105,000 people, it ranks as the wealthiest county in Mississippi. Per capita income in 2015 was just shy of $58,000, according to the state department of employment security.

The county’s wealth is concentrated among its white residents, according to the complaint. In the city of Madison, which is 85 percent white, the average household income is almost double the average income for Canton, the county’s largest majority-black city, the lawsuit says.

The ACLU argues the county has harbored a long history of “racial animus” toward its black residents. It notes that a previous sheriff was on the board of a citizens group that opposed desegregation in the 1950s, and says other authorities had used racially discriminatory policing tactics.

Citing census figures, the complaint says that the arrest rate for black people in the county is nearly five times the rate for white people. The disparity can’t be explained by nonracial factors, the ACLU argues.

The lawsuit alleges the county’s roadblocks and pedestrian “checkpoints” are designed and placed to target black people for searches and seizures in majority-black neighborhoods and outside of majority-black housing complexes, even when they are not suspected of crimes.

Quinnetta Manning, 29, said in the Monday news conference that she feels afraid to leave her home and no longer trusts the sheriff’s department to protect her family.

“I am scared all the time that the sheriff’s department will hurt me or family,” Quinnetta Manning said. “I feel unsafe in my own home.”

The Sheriff's Department treats Madison County like it’s a Constitution-free zone where racial profiling is ok. We must…

Posted by ACLU of Mississippi on Monday, May 8, 2017

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