Rights group plans effort to educate target population about right to refuse to be tested
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia has asked Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy J. Longo, Jr. to “cease the practice of detaining African-American men practically at random in order to collect saliva samples for DNA testing.” The ACLU request comes in the wake of reports that the Charlottesville police have collected 572 DNA samples from African-American men as part of an investigation of a serial rapist in the Charlottesville area.
Because the saliva samples collected for DNA testing are provided voluntarily, the police may not technically be violating the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against unreasonable searches. But the ACLU maintains that the collection of DNA on such a large scale violates the spirit of the Constitution and is bad public policy regarding race relations.
In a letter to the police chief, ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis writes: “The stunning number of samples collected by your department indicates that the net you have cast to locate your suspect is far too large to fit comfortably within the framework of our Constitution, which requires an individualized approach to criminal investigations.”
Willis also writes: “The ACLU has no intention of undermining your efforts to solve these serious crimes, but we strongly suggest that you narrow the scope of your investigation by using more precise indicia for selecting individuals whose DNA is to be sought. In order to restore pubic confidence in the Police Department, we also recommend that you publicize the new criteria to the residents of Charlottesville immediately.”
According to Willis, the racial aspect of the DNA search policy cannot be ignored. “The suspect in this instance is an African-American male, which is why only African-Americans are being tested,” said Willis. “But if the suspect were a white male, we wonder if nearly 600 of them would have been approached by the Charlottesville police and asked to give up their DNA for testing? The Police Department should be asking itself the same question.”
In its letter, the ACLU says that it intends to take steps to educate African-American males in Charlottesville as to their constitutional right to refuse to provide saliva samples to police officers, unless it is under circumstances required by law.
A town meeting with the Chief of Police is scheduled for this evening beginning at 8:00 p.m. at Clark Hall on the University of Virginia grounds.
A copy of the ACLU letter can be found here.
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022