Traffic Stops in Black and White

Reason magazine|June 2020

Traffic Stops in Black and White
Supreme Court imposed new limits on police authority to grill drivers during routine traffic stops last year, Bobbin Singh of the Oregon Justice Resource Center called the decision “incredibly important for communities of color.”
JACOB SULLUM

AFTER THE OREGON While white drivers may assume that getting a ticket is the worst thing that can happen when they’re pulled over for a traffic violation, Singh told Oregon Public Radio, “there’s not really any expectation of where the limits are” when people with darker complexions find themselves in the same situation.

Research confirms the impression that racial minorities tend to be treated differently during traffic stops. A 2018 analysis of stops in Portland, Oregon, found that black drivers were subjected to discretionary searches 9 percent of the time, compared to a rate of 3 percent for white drivers.

Information collected by the Pennsylvania State Police reveals similar disparities. “Year after year,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in January, “troopers were roughly two to three times more likely to search black or Hispanic drivers than white drivers.” And when searches were conducted, “troopers were far less likely to find contraband” if the drivers were black or Hispanic rather than white, suggesting that the evidentiary threshold for searching blacks and Hispanics was lower.

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June 2020