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'Moorish American' Group Say Police Violated Rights During Marlborough Traffic Stop

Members of a group who identify as "Moorish American Nationals" and argue they possess legal status in the United States are suing multiple law enforcement agencies in New Hampshire, claiming a traffic stop violated their rights.

The incident occurred November 12 in the town of Marlborough, when a sergeant pulled over three cars occupied by Moorish Americans who were traveling in a caravan. The vehicles recently exited the Cheshire County Department of Corrections in Keene, where they picked up a Moor who had been jailed for driving without a license.

After pulling into the parking lot near Doug’s Hot Dog Van in Marlborough, the civil lawsuit alleges that “various police cars swarmed” the scene before ultimately arresting one member of the group and seizing at least one vehicle, a 2012 Toyota Yaris, for failing to have proper motor vehicle registrations.

The civil lawsuit, filed in U.S. federal court in Concord, alleges the stop violated the Moors’ due process rights and that the group was targeted for their national origin and belief system.

“What we really want is the property back, and compensation for not having the car. We are willing to settle,” said Jahmal Talib Abdullah Bey, who filed the suit, which is asking for $1 million in damages.

According to Bey, who uses the title "grand sheik," the group has approximately 100 members in Pawtucket and Providence areas of Rhode Island. Moors believe that a 1787 treaty signed by Thomas Jefferson and the Moroccan Empire grant them a unique form of citizenship that makes them immune from certain state statutes. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center labels the Moorish Americans an extremist group, citing acts of violence allegedly carried out by its members.

That’s a label Bey rejects, arguing the group’s frequent use of the federal legal system to solve disputes, including the traffic stop in Marlborough, are evidence that Moors do not use violence to further their cause.

“We don’t threaten anyone, we don’t go to war with anyone. We go straight to court,” said Bey.

Among the defendants in the civil suit are the Marlborough, Harrisville, Dublin and Troy police departments, as well as the Cheshire County Department of Corrections. Leon’s Auto Center, which towed the vehicle to Keene, is also a named defendant.

Officials from the Marlborough Police Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Bey believes the police unnecessarily escalated the situation.

“They made it more than what it needed to be," Bey said. "I imagine it was the talk of the town for a while, because it seems like nothing really happens out there.”

The Moors have requested that the court wave the $400 filing fee, and instead plan to offer an ounce of pure silver in lieu of paying U.S. currency.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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