Black motorists are pulled over by police at much higher rates than white drivers, and race is only one of the crucial issues involved. A 2017 study carried out in Connecticut, one of the few to look into the racial disparity in this area, found that police pull over a disproportionately larger number of black and Hispanic drivers during the daytime, when police officers can clearly see who is at the wheel of the vehicle. The issue is complex because, as Chief of Police Louis Dekmar told National Geographic, one reason the statistics are so disproportionate is that more drivers are stopped in minority neighborhoods.
Why Are More Black and Hispanic Drivers Stopped?
Dekmar notes that because the crime rate “is significantly higher in minority neighborhoods,” more officers are assigned to these neighborhoods and more tickets are issued. However, race is also involved, with officers sometimes treating minorities with less respect. The researchers noted that “When pulled over for speeding, black drivers are 20% more likely to get a ticket (rather than a warning) than white drivers, and Hispanic drivers are 30% more likely to be ticketed than white drivers.” The statistics highlight a need for change. According to the Stanford University Open Policing Project, in 19 out of 24 states, African Americans are more likely to be stopped than whites. After being stopped, blacks are more likely to be searched in a vast majority of states. They are also more likely to be arrested.
What are Your Rights if You are Pulled Over?
Knowing there is a greater probability of being pulled over if you are black means it is important that you know your rights if you are given a ticket for fast driving or asked to pull over. You should know, for instance, that you can refuse a search of your vehicle. The officer may still insist on conducting one, but they will have to give reasons for it in their report. When asked questions that overstep limits, you can remain silent if you wish but it is better to answer cordially and not give any information you are uncomfortable with. For instance, if /asked what you are doing in the area, you may simply ask if it is okay for you to leave. The ACLU provides an exhaustive list of rights that explain what you can do if stopped by police or immigration agents.
Economic Parity is Key
Stacy Shaw, founding partner of a law firm in Kansas that specializes in traffic cases, notes that race is just the outer layer of a deeper problem that ultimately stems from socio-economic status. She notes that the majority of cases dealing with traffic relate to violations related to not paying insurance, licensing, or tag fees. Moreover, cases in which drivers are failing jail time because of violations related to their economic situation, are prevalent. Shaw is reducing charges that can add up to tens of thousands of dollars for ticket recipients, by setting aside $200,000 every year at her firm to aid lower-income clients.
Although financial aid programs to help pay for legal advise are helpful, they do not solve the real problem, which is economic disparity. Until more black Americans are able to pay insurance and other vehicle-related expenses, tickets will continue to be issued at similar rates. Stereotyping based on demographics should also be targeted. In their book Suspect Citizens, political scientists Frank Baumgartner, Derek Epp and Kelsey Shoub state that to reduce racial disparities on the road, the emphasis should be on traffic safety rather than regulatory enforcement. Search rates should also be lowered, particularly when there is no reasonable cause to stop a driver.