Two Latino men have sued the city of Chicago and the police department, alleging that discrimination led to their arrest last year after they canvassed a white neighborhood to remind people about the March 31st deadline to sign up for Obamacare and to gather signatures for a petition for a progressive tax.
Kevin Tapia and Felipe Hernandez say that city police unjustly arrested them and detained them for three hours on charges of “soliciting unlawful business,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
The city dropped the charges against them two months later, but the young men say the record of their arrest very likely will haunt them when they try to further their education, and obtain employment, among other things.
“They automatically convicted us on the spot,” said Hernandez, according to the newspaper.
The Sun-Times said that the men said they showed police identification, and explained what they were doing, but were treated in a hostile manner anyway.
“I was shocked to be arrested,” said Tapia to the Sun-Times. “Especially for engaging in a lawful activity…This arrest was simply unfair, unjust and simply outrageous.”
A spokesman for the Chicago Police Department said it is its policy not to profile.
“This matter stemmed from a 911 call made by a city resident, and there is no basis to suggest that this is indicative of anything other than that,” said spokesman Marty Maloney, according to the Sun-Times.
The newspaper cited police as saying that the neighborhood where Tapia and Hernandez were going door-to-door had been the target of scams in the weeks before they approached residents with the tax petition and reminders about the Obamacare enrollment deadline.
The police also maintained to the newspaper that the men were unable to furnish adequate identification from Grassroots Collaborative, the organization for which they were going door-to-door.
The men and the organization disputed that.
“It is the right and duty of citizens to talk to their neighbors about the issues they feel strongly about,” said Amisha Patel, the executive director of Grassroots Collaborative, in the Sun-Times article.
Patel said that the police treatment of Tapia and Hernandez sent a chilling message to minorities.
“Are they in danger of getting arrested for door-knocking and talking to their neighbors about the things that they care about?” Patel asked. “We all deserve to live in a city where we can talk to anybody in any neighborhood, especially if they are young men of color who are working to make their communities better.”