Police violence is a pervasive issue across the country that has led to harassment, injuries, and deaths. Racial discrimination and excessive force disproportionately impact communities of color, which often have an outsized police presence. And although investigations have repeatedly exposed patterns of racism and unconstitutional policing within law enforcement departments, they are rarely held accountable.
Victims who survive unconstitutional policing encounters must contend with a criminal legal system that, due to its own racial biases, wrongfully convicts them or forces them to plead out to fabricated resisting arrest charges—often preventing them from exercising their constitutional right to hold police accountable for their misconduct.
The ACLU of Louisiana’s Justice Lab aims to combat these injustices. The statewide program, which has already filed more than 50 cases on behalf of individuals challenging police violence, recognizes the systemic and discriminatory nature of police brutality and seeks to put an end to it through litigation and storytelling. It also fulfills an urgent need, as Louisiana law bars civil rights challenges after one year following the incident, and the Supreme Court case Heck v. Humphrey makes it very difficult for people to bring a civil rights challenge seeking money damages for constitutional violations that resulted in their conviction. The Justice Lab represents people who often face significant legal hurdles to accountability, including the use of fabricated legal charges intended to beget their silence.
Here, Anthony Monroe, a Justice Lab client who has experienced police violence firsthand and filed his case after the traditional one-year bar passed, and Alanah Odoms, the ACLU of Louisiana’s executive director, share their insight, experiences, and how they’re fighting back.
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
ACLU Client, Louisiana
The day after Thanksgiving, Mr. Monroe was leaving work after the 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift. He passed a slow-moving diesel truck without speeding, and noticed a Louisiana State Trooper parked on the side of the road. The state trooper began following Mr. Monroe, but he was confident he had nothing to worry about because he had done nothing wrong. Then the trooper turned his car’s lights on and pulled him over.
“He got out of his vehicle, had one hand on a flashlight and another hand on his gun. And I’m thinking something about this is not right.
“When I stepped out of my vehicle, that’s when the process started. He grabbed both of my hands, pulling me toward him, and made it look like I was resisting arrest. Another trooper showed up, and they threw me on the ground, [started] jumping on my back and pounding on me, with my hands behind my back.
“They keep pressing down, and I’m screaming ‘Oh my god, I can’t breathe.’ This isn’t supposed to be happening to me. I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“He’d been trained to do this. He never de-escalated the situation. He kept making the situation get worse and worse and worse … And after they brutalized me, then I got charged with resisting arrest.
“If you’ve been victimized like this and brutally beaten and attacked, it takes 28 to 34 months for you to get your mind right, because the first year, you’re still having nightmares, you’re waking up with sweats, you’re not being able to sleep, you’re getting up and down.
“And the justice that I’ve gotten so far has been good with the ACLU, but not with the Louisiana state troopers. The system is geared to make money off of people.
“The law should be blind, but it’s not. You shouldn’t have the freedom to abuse people like that in the United States, no matter where you live.
“I hope the law changes after they see what I’ve been through, and what has happened to me…We should be able to live in peace, every day.”
Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana
“The ACLU justice lab is a systemic, comprehensive approach to addressing police violence. We want to hold police accountable — and the departments that employ them — so that they can change their policy and conduct. We have filed 50 cases in three years, in every federal jurisdiction in Louisiana.
“This is something that we at the ACLU have decided to take up as a decades-long commitment because we don’t think there’s a silver bullet. There’s not one case that you can file. There’s not one piece of legislation that you can pass that’s going to change this.
“Police violence is an outgrowth — and it’s not just in the South. I think it’s important to state the problems that are endemic to policing, which are white supremacy and toxic masculinity. That’s why we know it’s going to take a sustained approach. It’s going to take a lot of resources, a lot of really smart, dedicated people pushing in the same direction and shifting this narrative.
“What I want folks to know is that we actually have an opportunity to do a lot better by people if we actually change policy. We want something better for our children and for their children, just like our ancestors wanted better for us.”