BUFFALO, N.Y. — Doretha Franklin says she's felt like a prisoner in her own home as Buffalo Police set up checkpoints in her neighborhood once a week for nearly four years. Their cruisers blocked her driveway.
"Can you imagine being held hostage to the point where you can't move and, if you do move, you're subjecting yourself to something or someone or an entity and when that happens your freedom may be gone in that next moment," said Franklin.
The checkpoints in question were a part of the Buffalo Police Department's strike force unit and were set up to search vehicles in "high crime" areas of the city.
"Imagine you need a $600 repair to get your inspection sticker, you don't have the money this week you'll have it next week, but in the meantime you go through a checkpoint. Now you have tickets, you still need to get the car fixed, can't pay the tickets, license suspended," said Buffalo resident Taniqua Simmons. "Now how you get back and forth to work? Now you become a criminal, because you're going to go back to work, ‘cause that's how you get out of this bind, but then you're in jail."
Residents joined with advocacy groups Thursday to file a class-action lawsuit against the city claiming the searches were a discriminatory tool to raise revenue for the city.
Last year attorneys with the National Center for Law and Economic Justice sued the city to obtain data about checkpoint locations. That data showed that 91 percent of checkpoints happened in minority and low-income neighborhoods.
"The driving force behind checkpoint locations was the racial demographics of the neighborhood. The greater the concentration of black and Latino people in the area, the more often police were doing checkpoints in that area," said Claudia Wilner, an attorney with the National Center for Law and Economic Justice.
Earlier this year, the department announced it would end the controversial strike force, but plaintiffs are still going forward and are seeking financial compensation and police reform.
"I want to see the city understand we are people, that government can't use people to balance their budgets," Franklin said.
A city spokesman said in a statement "It's the City's policy not to comment on pending litigation."