Eric André is taking Georgia authorities to task with a new lawsuit aimed at a police search program at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. André and fellow comedian Clayton English filed a lawsuit in federal court on Tuesday challenging the program that they say violates the constitutional rights of passengers, specifically Black ones, per The Associated Press.
English and André allege that in two separate incidents six months apart, both were racially profiled and illegally stopped by Clayton County police as part of the airport’s jet bridge interdiction program. According to the suit, officers stopped English and André as they each respectively attempted to board their flight, and accused them of carrying illegal drugs. An officer asked to search English’s bag, to which English said he agreed, thinking he had no choice.
“I felt completely powerless. I felt violated. I felt cornered,” English shared of the encounter during a news conference outside the Atlanta courthouse where the suit was filed. “I felt like I had to comply if I wanted everything to go smoothly.”
For their part, Clayton County describes the jet bridge stops (supposedly intended to fight drug trafficking) as “consensual encounters” that are “random.” But English’s account, and the hard data from the stops, usher in questions. Per the AP, police records show that of 402 jet bridge stops between Aug. 30, 2020, to April 30, 2021, people of color accounted for 258 of those stopped, or 68%. Furthermore, 211 (or 56%) of those stopped were Black. Of all 402 stops, only three resulted in any type of drug seizure.
In previous interviews, André has echoed that feeling of violation English elucidates, describing his airport interrogation as “dehumanizing and demoralizing.” André didn’t become demoralized, however—at the same news conference, he emphasized that he’s been pushed to act by a “moral calling.”
“I have the resources to bring national attention and international attention to this incident. It’s not an isolated incident,” he said. “If Black people don’t speak up for each other, who will?”
André and English are seeking a jury trial for the case, and ask that the jet bridge interdiction program be declared unconstitutional. They also seek compensatory and punitive damages, as well as compensation for legal fees. The lawsuit specifically names Clayton County and the police chief, plus four police officers and a district attorney’s office investigator.