The actors and comedians Eric André and Clayton English are suing the local police department for Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport over a “coercive” jet bridge stop program that they claim is unconstitutional and is subjecting passengers passing through the airport to “racial profiling”.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Atlanta on Tuesday by lawyers for the men who will ask the court to shut down the Clayton County Police Department’s controversial ‘jet bridge stop program’.
As the name implies, the program entails two or three police officers standing on a jet bridge as passengers are boarding a plane and “randomly” stopping people as they are walking down the jet bridge.
On April 21, 2021, Eric was flying from Atlanta to Los Angeles when he was intercepted by two police officers who were waiting on the jet bridge. The officers questioned him for five minutes, during which time they asked if he was carrying illegal drugs, all while other passengers “gawked” at him as they squeezed past.
Eric was allowed to board the flight, but he says the encounter with the police officers was a “humiliating and degrading experience”.
“It’s hard to believe I was selected at ‘random’ for questioning,” Eric said of the encounter. “I didn’t see any other Black people boarding at the time.”
Clayton had a very similar experience as he went to board a flight to Los Angeles just six months earlier in October 2020.
In an eight-month period, the Clayton County Police Department had 402 “consensual encounters” as they describe them, of which only two resulted in passengers being charged with drug offenses.
During that same time period, however, the police department seized more than $1 million in cash and money orders based on the “slightest suspicion” that the money was connected to criminal activity.
“Neither Georgia residents nor travelers are safer because of these unlawful, discriminatory stops,” commented Richard Deane from law firm Jones Day who are representing the two comedians.
In the lawsuit, lawyers acting on behalf of the men will argue that “by ambushing passengers in this manner, the Unit’s officers compound the enormous, preexisting compulsion to cooperate with airport law enforcement by exploiting the passengers’ fear they will create an untoward scene or will appear guilty, subversive, or dangerous to their fellow passengers.”
“Those pressures are even greater for persons of color, given the history of racial profiling by airport security officers,” the lawsuit continues.
An Open Records Act request revealed that 56 percent of the passengers stopped during an eight-month period were black. Researchers from the Policing Project which is supporting Eric and Clayton say that when compared to the percentage of black airline passengers, the odds that black passengers were randomly selected for these stops is less than one in 100 trillion.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.