Two black pastors who were waiting for help with their car were shocked after a policeman stopped and asked them if they carried drugs or guns.
The pair were stuck on a highway after their boat trailer got a flat tire and they called for roadside assistance in Waukesha, Milwaukee.
Demetrius Williams and John Patterson, who are both pastors at Baptist churches, had been on their way home from a fishing trip when they pulled the car off the road and called an insurance company.
As they were waiting for a towing company to bring a spare tire, a county deputy sheriff called Erik Michalsen approached them. After they explained their predicament, the sheriff asked them if they had any drugs, guns or alcohol in the truck.
Williams remembers telling the sheriff:
Sir we’re both pastors. We wouldn’t have anything like that.
However, the deputy proceeded to ask for their licence, and when Williams asked why it was necessary, he was told it was standard procedure.
After checking their licence, the deputy put a sticker on the car used to mark abandoned vehicles.
This isn’t right. We’re sitting here waiting for roadside assistance, and this man is treating us like we’re criminals.
John Patterson later added in a news conference:
I was deeply troubled because I felt and still feel profoundly now that an injustice and a discriminatory practise was taking place all under the guise of standard policy.
A community organisation called Common Ground had pushed for a meeting with Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department about possible racial profiling. After months of no meeting, they submitted questions.
The incident happened in May and since then the sheriff’s department conducted an investigation.
According to the report, Michalsen asks every driver he approaches about weapons and drugs. It adds that Michalsen was following procedure for traffic stops, despite the fact that the pair had not committed a moving violation, nor were they pulled over.
Neither Williams nor Patterson were spoken to in the process of the investigation.
This isn’t the first time the police have been accused of racial bias in America, and research has shown the people of colour are in fact treated different by law enforcement in routine traffic stops.