During a traffic court session in Ferguson in mid-July, the line stretched out the door. Although the city is two-thirds black, almost everyone appearing before the judge that day was black. African-Americans also accounted for the overwhelming majority of drivers appearing in traffic courts recently in the nearby towns of Florissant and St. Ann — both of which have predominantly white populations.
In Ferguson, the dreary routine of traffic court played out over two and a half hours — 90 minutes longer than was scheduled. People filed through a metal detector and had to store their cellphones in manila envelopes to take them into the courtroom. He said he had been pulled over about eight times in different municipalities in St. Louis County over the course of two years and was in court in Ferguson recently for tickets he had received for speeding and driving without insurance. Bunch, who works in a shipping and receiving warehouse, said he had skipped previous court dates.
He finally decided to show up after getting stopped about a month earlier. There had been a warrant for his arrest because of the delinquent tickets. In the past, he very likely would have been thrown in jail. But Mr.
Bunch said the officer simply took him to a nearby police station, booked and released him, and told him to go to court. While that was a better outcome than having to spend time behind bars, Mr. Bunch said the underlying racial dynamics of driving while black in St. Louis remained the same as they have for years.
When he is pulled over, officers sometimes do not cite a violation for stopping him, he said. Law enforcement officials in Missouri have argued that black drivers were pulled over at higher rates because they accounted for most of the drivers passing through particular communities. Black drivers were still pulled over at higher rates in many places, including Ferguson. In an effort to curb excessive ticketing, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5 with broad bipartisan support in The law capped the percentage of revenue that municipalities were allowed to earn from their courts at 20 percent, among other things.
The results have been stark. The number of warrants issued statewide fell by 18 percent to , over the same period. In his new role, Mr. Schmitt has attempted to go after municipalities in court.
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Last month, he reached a settlement with the city of Diamond, in southwestern Missouri, to end its traffic ticket quota. Yet these changes were not enough to prevent Kylie Malveaux from choosing to give up driving altogether out of fear that she might amass more tickets and fines on top of what she already owed. Stovall was followed for several blocks while the officer spoke into his radio.
Finally, the newspaper said, the patrolman left, leaving Stovall to wonder. Another African American, Judith Hyman, said she was stopped by a Portland police officer while driving on a city street with her son, who is black, and his girlfriend, who is white.
The newspaper also told the story of Mutima Peter, an immigrant from Congo and pastor of the African International Church, who said he was once questioned by an officer after parking his car. People said I should speak out, but this is a general thing for many people. The troopers searched their car and brought in drug-sniffing dogs. During the course of the search, their daughter's wedding dress was tossed onto one of the police cars and, as trucks passed on I, it was blown to the ground. Carter was not allowed to use the restroom during the search because police officers feared that she would flee.
Washington Monthly | Driving While Black
Their belongings were strewn along the highway, trampled and urinated on by the dogs. No drugs were found and no ticket was issued. The Carters eventually reached a settlement with the Maryland State Police. Source: The Daily Record.
Driving While Black
In , Nelson Walker, a young Liberian man attending college in North Carolina, was driving along I in Maryland when he was pulled over by state police who said he wasn't wearing a seatbelt. The officers detained him and his two passengers for two hours as they searched for illegal drugs, weapons, or other contraband. Finding nothing in the car, they proceeded to dismantle the car and removed part of a door panel, a seat panel and part of the sunroof.
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The officers found nothing and in the end handed Walker a screwdriver, saying, "You're going to need this," as they left the scene. Source: The Raleigh News-Observer. Gary D.
Analyzing the Stops
Rodwell repeatedly refused to consent to a search of his vehicle when he was stopped for three hours on I in He said that the officer threatened to arrest him and called in a canine unit to search the vehicle. When no drugs were found, the officer accused Rodwell of lying, took his keys and called a tow truck to impound the Pontiac Bonneville Rodwell was driving. Rodwell had to pay the tow truck driver to get his car back. Source: The Baltimore Sun. In Massachusetts, speaker after speaker, including black doctors and lawyers, testified before a legislative committee in April about being stopped by police officers, apparently because of the color of their skin.
The speakers were supporting a bill that would require the state to collect traffic stop statistics to see if blacks were being stopped inordinately. Source: Associated Press. Yawu Miller, a black reporter with the Bay State Banner, decided to find out how long two black men could drive at night in Brookline, a predominantly white community, before being pulled over by the police.
It happened almost immediately. Three cruisers with flashing blue lights appeared in Miller's rear view mirror. One cruiser drew up along side Miller's car and asked, "Are you lost? Any reason why you're driving around in circles? In Michigan last year invited officials African Americans and other minorities to air their grievances about police mistreatment at an all-day forum.
Among those telling their stories was Alicia Smith of Oak Park, a year-old African American who was driving to a movie with friends in her hometown when two white officers stopped her without explanation and asked where she was going. Another African American woman told of her husband's experience of being stopped and warned about a "tilted license plate. I worked everyday just like that police officer did.
In Nebraska, the Omaha Human Relations Board released a series of recommendations last year for improving relations between police and minority communities.
Sweet Streams: Driving While Black
Among the recommendations, the Omaha World-Herald reported, were that the Mayor's Office and City Council address complaints that police target minorities for traffic stops and subject them to other forms of harassment. Ron Estes, an African American firefighter, told of visiting a model home in a west Omaha subdivision. Although the homes were closed, Estes told the Human Relations Board that he spoke to a resident of the subdivision for about 30 minutes while sitting in his Chevrolet Blazer.
A few days later, he stopped by his fire station to pick up his gear when he overheard an Omaha police officer asking other firefighters questions about his truck, which had a personalized license plate that read BSICBLK. Estes said he later learned that the subdivision resident he had talked with was a police officer who reported his visit as suspicious. Shortly thereafter, Estes bought a new personalized license plate.
Source: The Detroit News. In New Jersey in , four young men — three African Americans and one Hispanic — en route to a basketball clinic in North Carolina were shot on the New Jersey Turnpike after their van was stopped for speeding and suspected drug trafficking. The men contend that they were not speeding, but were stopped because of their race.