Civil Rights Groups Deplore "Swimming While Black" Incident at Ann Arbor Pool

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
August 28, 2000 12:00 am

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ANN ARBOR, MI – The American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP and other civil rights leaders are speaking out at rally this weekend protesting the unjustified search and detention of six African-American youth at a public pool here.

“‘Swimming While Black’ is not a crime,” said Michigan ACLU Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg, who is advising the families of the children. “This ugly incident illustrates the extent to which racial profiling has pervaded our society. It is not limited to traffic stops or shopping malls; it can happen anytime and anywhere.”

On July 20, 2000, a white patron at the Veterans Memorial Pool reported that his pager and cell phone were missing. In reaction, the pool manager singled out the only African American patrons at the pool as suspects.

Three African-American boys and three African-American girls were preparing to leave the pool after an afternoon of swimming, when the pool manager approached one of boys in the locker room and demanded that he shake out his clothes and open up his shirt.

Although there were several white boys in the locker room, the manager did not require that they shake out their belongings.

When the young man exited the locker room to join his friends in the lobby, the pool manager asked all six of the youths to remain in the lobby until the police arrived. The pool manager also stationed pool staff at the lobby exit.

When an Ann Arbor police officer arrived, the man who lost his cell phone proceeded to ask the children to empty their bags one-by-one. Given the presence of the pool manager and the police officer, the children did not believe that they had any choice but to comply. Nothing was found.

“It was very embarrassing,” said Freddie Anderson, one of the boys who was detained. “White people in the lobby were watching us while we were being searched. We were being treated like criminals even though we had done nothing wrong.”

The pool manager failed to call any of the parents to ask permission to search the children and to apologize for detaining the children.

In response to the incident, city officials issued a personal apology to the families and promised that some unspecified disciplinary action would be taken against the Veterans Pool manager. The city also offered $100 in coupons for use at Parks and Recreation facilities, which the families declined.

“We commend the City for recognizing that a wrong was committed in this case and for taking the families’ complaint seriously,” said Dr. Harry J. Williams, President of the Ann Arbor NAACP. “However, the City could be doing so much more to make sure that incidents like this do not happen.”

“Racial sensitivity training has been erratic, the City has refused to implement the affirmative action plan developed by the Human Rights Office, and past discrimination complaints against the Parks and Recreation Department have not been addressed appropriately,” Dr. Williams said

Joe Dulin, principal of Roberto Clemente High School in Ann Arbor, an organizer of the community protest, agreed. “From the womb to the tomb, we have racial profiling of African-Americans,” he said.

The protest against racial profiling at pools has been scheduled for Saturday, September 2, 2000, at 3 p.m. at Veterans Pool, located at 2150 Jackson Road in Ann Arbor. The rain date is Sunday, September 3 at 3 p.m. There will be a picket along Jackson Road followed by a rally in front of the pool.

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