PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence Police Department is being sued by a former recruit who claims he faced months of racial discrimination and harassment while at the academy.
The federal lawsuit was filed Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island on behalf of Michael Clark of West Warwick.
Clark, who is Black, was involuntarily dismissed from the academy just a few weeks before graduation because he had accumulated too many demerits, which the ACLU says were not deserved.
“I applied to the Providence Police Academy because I wanted to make a difference in my community,” Clark said. “I wanted the opportunity to give back to the city of Providence. I am deeply disappointed that I was dismissed from the Academy.”
The lawsuit claims trainers at the academy subjected Clark to “retaliatory, punitive, discriminatory, threatening, demeaning and humiliating treatment” based upon his race and racial stereotypes.
The harassment began on Clark’s first day, according to the ACLU, when he was allegedly told to put on a “do-rag” and sing for the rest of the class.
The lawsuit says while other recruits received a single stun gun shock as part of a training exercise, Clark was the only recruit who received repeated shocks while he was forced to crawl across the floor, which left him with skin burns and bleeding.
Additionally, the lawsuit argues Clark’s First Amendment rights were violated when he was singled out by instructors for views he expressed in Christian rap songs he had written and posted online about a year before entering the academy. One of the songs referred to “Black men being killed by police, requests to police ‘Don’t shoot,’ calls for unity among all people, and a cry out to God,” according to the ACLU.
“There is no lawful reason any of the training officers at the academy had to harass and ridicule Mr. Clark due to his race, religious beliefs and his decision to exercise his right to free speech when he questioned the conduct of police officers toward the Black community,” ACLU of Rhode Island cooperating attorney Sonja Deyoe said in a statement.
“I personally respect Mr. Clark for attempting to graduate from the academy despite the immediate discriminatory harassment he faced,” she continued.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, along with a requirement for the defendants to undergo “appropriate training in order to ensure the eradication of all unlawful discriminatory conduct” and that all members of Clark’s academy session be “re-trained in First Amendment rights of citizens and unlawful racial stereotyping.”
A spokesperson for the city declined to comment on the pending litigation.