Eric Andre Suing Atlanta Police Over ‘Racist’ Drug Search

“It’s hard to believe I was selected at ‘random’ for questioning. It was a humiliating and degrading experience.”
eric-andre-atlanta-police-lawsuit
Eric Andre attends Cinespia's screening of 'Coming to America' held at Hollywood Forever on September 25, 2021 in Hollywood, California. (Kelly Lee Barrett/Getty Images)

Two prominent Black comedians filed a federal lawsuit against Clayton County in Georgia, accusing the county’s police force of racially discriminating against them and other non-white people as they boarded their flights, all under the guise of stopping drug trafficking.

Actors and stand-up comedians Clayton English and Eric Andre, the latter of whom has a popular show on Adult Swim, say they were unjustly stopped by police as they waited to board a flight at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. As part of the “jet bridge interdiction program,” according to the lawsuit, the Clayton County Police Department has officers standing by before people step onto the plane, and those officers can randomly select passengers for questioning. During questioning, the passengers’ boarding passes and ID cards are confiscated, and they’re subject to a random search if deemed necessary. 

But as Andre and English’s lawsuit says, these so-called “random searches” don’t seem random at all.

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“I was blocked in a jet bridge by two police officers who interrogated me about drugs,” Andre said at a press conference announcing the lawsuit Tuesday. “I didn’t see any other Black people boarding at the time. It’s hard to believe I was selected at ‘random’ for questioning. It was a humiliating and degrading experience.”

Six months earlier, English had his bag searched by police as passengers squeezed past. He said he agreed to the search because he thought he had no other choice.

According to the lawsuit, there are many similarities between the two men’s encounters. Both were stopped in their tracks by plainclothes cops who blocked their path; they were asked if they were carrying a number of illegal drugs in their luggage; they were pulled to the side and questioned about why they were flying to Los Angeles; and both men were subjected to this process as other passengers looked on and made their way onto the plane.

“Part of the reason I’m here today is because this needs to stop,” English said at Tuesday’s press conference. “I felt completely powerless. I felt violated, I felt cornered, I felt like I couldn’t continue to get on the plane. I felt like I had to comply if I wanted everything to go smoothly.”

The Clayton County Police says that the stops at Atlanta’s lone international airport are randomized. In the case of Andre’s stop, police said in a Facebook statement at the time that the comedian consented to the stop and even agreed to a search, which officers did not conduct. 

But the data shows otherwise. According to police records, between September 2020 and April 2021, the police stopped 402 people and documented the race of 378. At least 211 passengers (56 percent) of those documented were Black, according to the lawsuit. An additional 47 passengers who were stopped were non-white.

“These are cases of flying while Black, plain and simple,” Barry Friedman, an attorney and co-founder of the Policing Project at NYU School of Law said at the press conference. Friedman and NYU’s Policing Project is joined by the law firms of Jones Day and Lawrence & Bundy in representing the two men. The three firms encouraged others who’ve experienced discriminatory stops at the Atlanta airport to reach out to share their stories.

Friedman told VICE News Wednesday that the legal team has already had more than one individual reach out about a separate airport encounter with Clayton police.

The Clayton County Police Department’s community liaison declined to comment on the lawsuit, telling VICE News it would not comment on pending litigation.

Both Andre and English are asking for compensatory damages, as well as a declaration that the jet bridge interdiction program violates people’s right against unreasonable search and their rights to equal treatment by the state.

While it is historically more common for middle-class and poor Black Americans to face discrimination at the hands of law enforcement, affluence isn’t a shield. In March, Ryan Coogler, the Oakland-born director of films like “Black Panther” and “Fruitvale Station,” was detained at gunpoint by Atlanta police at a Bank of America. Though Coogler had both his bank card and his ID, the bank teller reportedly told a manager that the director was attempting a robbery because he was trying to withdraw a large sum of money. Police eventually let him go, and Coogler settled the matter with Bank of America out of court. 

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