The comedians claim that they were asked a series of insulting questions about whether they were carrying or transporting drugs.
Comedians Eric Andre and Clayton English have filed a lawsuit against the Clayton County Police Department, alleging that they were profiled by law enforcement at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on two separate occasions.
According to CNN, the two comedians—both of whom are African-American—say officers pulled them aside while they waited in the jet bridge, asking intrusive, pointed questions.
“Police officers came out of nowhere in, like, almost like an ambush style,” Andre said, “and started, singled me out.”
“I was the only person of color on the jet bridge at the time,” he added.
“They singled me out,” Andre said. “They asked me if I was selling drugs, transporting drugs, what kind of drugs I have on me.”
Andre’s lawsuit, filed on Tuesday, notes that the stops appear to be related to an anti-drug trafficking program at Hartsfield-Jackson.
However, Andre and English say that the Clayton County Police Department has unfairly targeted Black men for random stops and questioning.
“It was clear racial profiling. The experience was humiliating and dehumanizing, degrading, I had all the other passengers squeezing by me on this claustrophobic jet bridge gawking at me like I was a perpetrator,” Andre said.
Police also stopped English on a flight to Los Angeles in October 2020.
“I was almost on the plane when, in the jet bridge two officers popped out, showed their badges and started asking questions whether I had illegal drugs like cocaine, and I feel cornered in a jet bridge and I felt the need to comply,” English said in a press conference.
The Clayton County Police Department has denied all wrongdoing.
“On April 21, 2021, the Clayton County Police Department made a consensual encounter with a male traveler, later identified as Eric Andre, as he was preparing to fly to California from the Atlanta Airport. Mr. Andre chose to speak with investigators during the initial encounter. During the encounter, Mr. Andre voluntarily provided the investigators information as to his travel plans,” a law enforcement spokesperson said in a media statement.
“Mr. Andre also voluntarily consented to a search of his luggage but the investigators chose not to do so. Investigators identified that there was no reason to continue a conversation and therefore terminated the encounter,” they added. “Mr. Andre boarded the plane without being detained and continued on his travels. The Drug Enforcement Administration and the Atlanta Police Department did not assist in this consensual encounter.”
However, attorney Barry Friedman—who is representing both Andre and English—said that the Clayton County Police Department’s anti-drug trafficking program has been anything but successful.
“They’ve come up with very little drugs, but they’ve taken a lot of cash off passengers,” Friedman said, adding that 56% of passengers searched were Black.
“Over the 8-month period in question, the program seized $1,036,890.35 in cash and money orders via 25 civil asset forfeitures,” the lawsuit states.
“Yet, of the 25 passengers who had cash seized, 24 were allowed to continue on their travels, often on the same flight, and only two were ever charged with any related crime.”
Richard Deane, another member of the plaintiffs’ legal team, suggested that the anti-drug trafficking operation was a money-making endeavor for local authorities.
“What appears to be happening is that this is organized largely in order to seize money from people, on the hope that they’re not going to thereafter make the claim for those funds,” Deane said.