Two Black Comedians Sue Police Over Search at Atlanta Airport
ATLANTA — Police raided the baggage claim at a busy Atlanta airport in mid-August, questioning passengers about possible terrorist ties, while the officers with a dog named Snowball searched through their bags.
Annie Le, a comedy writer whose shows have made her a cultural icon in Atlanta, is one of two African-American comedians who recently filed lawsuits against the police, arguing that their rights were violated. She says her name and identity were swept through the airport’s computers and she was required to show her airline ticket to a police officer to see if she had a “suspicious” profile on the national database, which identifies people and vehicles considered a risk of terrorism.
She says her lawsuit against the Atlanta Police Department contends that she was wrongly arrested and detained for 10 hours, but that she never showed police her ticket as she would have if she’d been carrying a weapon or drugs.
The police also detained a white woman, Rebecca Johnson, who was told that she was the suspect of terrorism and that the police would search her bag for evidence, even though she has never been in the country and is legally in the U.S. legally.
“It was a nightmare,” said Le, 42, after she returned to her hotel. “I didn’t have a phone, so I went to sleep when I didn’t have to be going through this. I had my friend’s number on me from when she had gone through security. But we were both just thrown to the side of the airport, detained for hours,” said Le, who declined to name her friend or the woman’s name because the incidents were in “public view.”
Both women sued the city of Atlanta, which did not return calls for comment.
“You can’t search a woman because they know she’s a woman. What are these people doing?” Le said. “What is the point?”
In early August, Atlanta police issued a statement saying they had received a tip that something was amiss and were investigating whether the two women were targeted because of their race. They said they were then able to secure additional information about the women, but Le said that information was not enough to determine whether or not the women were targeted by the Atlanta police.
“My name was searched repeatedly,” she said. “When I asked why, I was told that there was a terrorist connection. Yet, my name