Melissa Harris Perry
updated 5/5/2013 6:17:44 PM ET 2013-05-05T22:17:44

The ACLU conducted a year-long investigation into the practice, described by officers as taking homeless people "for a ride."

Police in one of the nation’s troubled cities may be combating homelessness by kicking people out of the city and stranding them miles away.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote a letter to the Detroit police and filed a complaint with the Department of Justice last week accusing Detroit officers of picking up, driving, and then “dumping” people they perceive to be homeless outside the city limits.

Michael Steinberg, the legal director of the Michigan ACLU spoke on Sunday’s Melissa Harris-Perry Sunday about the ACLU’s year-long investigation into the practice, which has been described by officers as taking homeless people “for a ride.”

“Essentially what the police were doing were kidnapping” people from Greektown, one of Detroit’s tourist-friendly neighborhoods, Steinberg said. The Detroit police department had no comment on the complaint when asked by a local TV station.

A number of laws have been passed that increasingly criminalize homelessness, which leave men, women and children with fewer options for help. Detroit is far from the only city to do this; Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was harshly criticized for incarcerating homeless individuals for infractions such as loitering.

Watch the full discussion and watch Melissa Harris-Perry every Saturday and Sunday at 10 AM ET.

Video: The shocking police practice of ‘dumping’ the homeless

  1. Closed captioning of: The shocking police practice of ‘dumping’ the homeless

    >> about the long drawn-out war on drugs . another war is being waged that you may know nothing about. the war against the homeless . on april 18th , the aclu sent a letter to the department of justice and the detroit police department urging that the practice of dumping the homeless be stopped. a year-long aclu investigation claims the following. detroit police officers stopped people perceived to be homeless in tourist area of greektown in detroit . they forced them into vans, took them for a ride and deserted them miles away . the sad truth, detroit isn't the only city that treats the homeless this way. joining me now from detroit is michael steinberg , legal director of the aclu . nice to have you, michael .

    >> thank you, melissa.

    >> tell me, what does your investigation show that the police were doing to folks who are experiencing homelessness in detroit ?

    >> essentially what the police were doing were kidnapping individuals off the streets of tourist friendly areas of detroit , putting them in handcuffs, throwing them in the back of a wagon or police car and transporting them either outside the city or to deserted parts of the city and abandoning them. they then tell the individuals that they weren't welcome back to greektown or other tourist friendly areas. sometimes they'd make it difficult for them to return by making them throw their money down a storm drain . the problem, of course, is that the lifeline for many of these individuals is in greektown . there are warming centers, food and churches and other services. so they'd have to walk sometimes throughout middle of michigan winter. one person had a blood clot in his leg and it took him over three hours to get back.

    >> i want to take a moment and listen to some of the men talking about their own experiences and then i'll have you respond to something.

    >> okay.

    >> dude asked me to work.

    >> i asked him if i was free to go. he told me no.

    >> took like maybe a 15-minute ride.

    >> don't know where you're going or ending up. maybe when you get there, you're abused in some way. what would that feel like?

    >> it took us almost five hours to get back. walking, it was cold.

    >> so michael , have the detroit police department or the department of justice addressed these concerns?

    >> well, we had the quickest response time and quickest time by the police. as soon as we sent our letter, they sent over two members of internal affairs saying they wanted to investigate it. they've met with some of the individuals that we've spoken to and we hope they will put an end to it. we've also reported it to the department of justice because we believe that the practice violates the consent, judgment that was entered into between the doj and the detroit police department .

    >> michael , part of what we've been talking about this morning is criminalizing drugs. there's also this kind of impact of criminalizing homelessness and we were looking not only in detroit but all over the country. municipalities doing things like making it illegal to sleep or sit in a store or in personal buildings, laws punishing people for beg r or panhandling. enforcement of quality of life ordinances. tell me, is there a war on the homeless ?

    >> you can definitely appropriately characterize it as a war on the homeless . we're challenging a state law in michigan that makes it a crime to beg in public. we have represented individuals who have been charged with trespass who are sleeping on public land . essentially criminalizing the status of being homeless . society -- if we want to stop seeing homeless people on the streets, we as a society have to treat the problem as a social problem . not a criminal justice problem. we have to provide mental health services to those who need it. we have to provide drug treatment programs for those who need it in public housing . we can't make it a crime to be homeless . homelessness is not going to go away by making it illegal.

    >> michael steinberg , i sew appreciate that point. it dovetails to what we were talking about. we have a set of social responsibilities, epidemiologically. thank you for your work.

    >> thank you.

    >>> up next, i received a special plea for help after last week's segment on culture on campus. that story is


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