On Wednesday, February 6, the ACLU of Southern California announced that it had settled a lawsuit against the city of Glendale and the Glendale Unified School District on behalf of eight Latino students. The suit stemmed from an incident at Hoover High School. The students alleged that on September 24, 2010, acting on the basis of race, Glendale and Los Angeles police officers detained over 50 Latino students at the school, interrogated them about supposed gang affiliations, and forced them to pose for mock mug shots. The ACLU still has claims pending against the Los Angeles Probation and Police Departments for their roles in the detentions.
Legally speaking, police officers must reasonably suspect that the target of their investigation is committing or has committed a crime before they can detain him or her. They cannot rely on a mere hunch that the detainee is up to no good, meaning that race or ethnicity isn't a sufficient basis for a detention.
When officers detain and search someone without "reasonable suspicion" anything they turn up as a result of the encounter is, generally speaking, inadmissible in a court of law. But, what happens when their investigation doesn't uncover any criminal behavior? Usually, nothing. That's why the recent ACLU settlement--and its public announcement--are encouraging. The more that victims, attorneys, police departments, and in this instance, school districts acknowledge and address incidents of this nature, the less likely they are to recur. That said, I suspect we still have a long way to go.