On April 20, 1871 Congress passed a civil rights act to protect the newly freed slaves from being terrorized and disarmed by the first wave of the Ku Klux Klan. This early version of the Klan was made up primarily of former confederate soldiers who sought to stop Reconstruction efforts. They did not burn crosses but nevertheless made the lives of African-Americans a living hell.
The law, which is often called the Ku Klux Klan Act, was later amended and is now 42 United States Code Section 1983. It allowed a person to sue for damages anyone who, while acting under color of law, deprived that person of their constitutional rights.
After this law was passed, it went unused for nearly a century; its power and reach were untested and thus unknown. The events described below would forever change how that law would be used.
On the evening of October 27, 1958, Peter Saisi was murdered in Chicago. When the police arrived at the scene, Mrs. Saisi told them that two Negro men had entered her home and killed her husband. She stated that the men had fled with a sum of money and a number of white dress shirts.
Just before 6:00 a.m. on October 29, 1958, thirteen Chicago police officers, including Detective Frank Pape, broke into the apartment of James Monroe waking him, his wife and their six children. They forced Monroe and his wife to stand naked in their living room while they ransacked the apartment. They then took Monroe down to police headquarters and held him for ten hours on "open" charges while they interrogated him about Saisi’s murder. They did not have a warrant for the search or for the arrest and refused Monroe’s repeated requests to call his attorney.
The Monroes brought a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against each of the police officers individually and against the City of Chicago. Following trial where a jury awarded the Monroe adults $13,000, the judge dismissed the case saying the suit was not proper. After the court dismissed all of their claims, the Monroes appealed and eventually their case came before the United States Supreme Court.
On February 20, 1961, the Supreme Court for the first time allowed people to sue police officers for violations of their constitutional rights. Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167 (1961).
If you would like to learn more about your rights or believe that you have been discriminated against please visit the Civil Rights Justice Center located at 2150 N. 107th Street in Seattle Washington or visit our website at civilrightsjusticecenter.com