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Customs and Border Protection officer says racism at Michigan-Canada border happens daily: 'It needs to be exposed'

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PORT HURON, Mich. — Officer Johnny Grays still fumes about the day he pulled his gun on a driver while the man’s children screamed in the back seat, “Don’t shoot my daddy!” 

The driver wouldn’t turn off his engine or roll down his window as asked at the inspection border station in Port Huron, Michigan. Then he refused to show his hands, but instead reached in his coat pocket and then the glove box — so Grays drew his gun and pointed it at the motorist’s head, fearing he was armed.

Turned out, the driver was only looking for his key fob. 

He was Black. So is Grays, a Customs and Border Protection officer who is now suing the federal government, alleging racial profiling put him in harm’s way that day, caused an innocent family to be terrorized and for years has demeaned and humiliated scores of Black travelers at the  border crossing between Port Huron and Sarnia, Canada.

Johnny Lee Grays, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer under the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, Thursday, March 18, 2021.

In a new lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, three Black CBP officers are suing the Department of Homeland Security, alleging CBP routinely targets and harasses Black travelers at the Blue Water Bridge between Port Huron and Sarnia. Of the 275 CBP officers who work at that location, four are Black.

The Michigan lawsuit highlights what some immigration and civil rights advocates describe as a pervasive and unchecked problem of racial profiling at CBP, an agency they say has been steeped in institutional racism for decades.  Similar racial profiling lawsuits have been filed over the years in Montana, Virginia, Texas, Washington, Ohio and Maine, though CBP has routinely denied culpability and avoided repercussions.

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