Racial profiling is a prevailing issue throughout the United States. For the duration of the semester, we briefly touched on racial profiling and split second decision cases. Split second decision and racial profiling are closely associated because research shows that police officers typically make decisions based off of appearance. When a police officer only has several seconds in order to make a decision that decides life or death, they must judge the situation with the visual information that they have. Unfortunately, these tendencies have resulted in thousands of unjustified shootings, searches, and homicides of colored people. The Black Lives Matter movement is a reaction to the unwarranted violence, racial profiling, and racism towards against black people. This paper aims to examine the pervasiveness of the issue, the interpretation as to why the problem exists, and propose several solutions to help alleviate the issue concerning police officers and civilians.
When researching about traffic stops, shootings, and unlawful searches of black and brown people, I was not surprised to find the statistics and stories that I did. Unfortunately, this issue has become even greater throughout recent years and I have heard countless stories in the media of unarmed black teens being killed by police officers. The first story that I found was about a young man named Corey Jones. On Sunday, October 18th, 2015 at approximately 3:15am Corey was standing next to his car that he pulled over to the side of road because his car had broken down on his way home to Boynton Beach, FL. Corey was leaving from a musical performance with his band in Jupiter, FL. His body was found 100 feet away from his vehicle, from which he appeared to have run. Jones did have a gun on him, he had purchased it 3 days prior to the shooting and had a concealed carry license.
The gun was found on the ground between Jones body and his car and had not been discharged. On June, 1 2016 the officer that shot Jones, Nouman Raja, was charged and convicted of manslaughter and attempted murder (Fletcher, 2018). Another real life story demonstrate the extent of the problem that is driving while black or brown and how deadly it can be. But a second life story shows how common the problem is in everyday life and how minor traffic stops based off of racial profiling can be detrimental as well. Deborah Wright of West Haven, CT was stopped on Dixwell Avenue in Hamden by a police officer that demanded her license and registration in a degrading and demeaning tone. When he realized that Wright was on the civilian police commission in West Haven his tone completely shifted and he kindly explained that her registration had expired (Fletcher, 2018).
But where did this problem start? Have police officers always racially profiled civilians in order to eliminate crime? The Journal Article Explaining and Eliminating Racial Profiling analyzes the root of this problem. According to Warren, the problem began around the 1980’s when 25,000 state and local police officers were trained by the DEA to catch potential drug distributors. Unfortunately a part of this training included noting the race of the suspect. For example, The drug courier profile in Delaware was; young minority men wearing large amounts of gold jewelry and pagers. Delaware is only one example of a state that had this type of racial profiling at this time (Warren, 2009). This approach has proven to be more harmful than good, as statistically, criminality does not provide any explanation for the racial disparities from law enforcement.
In fact, black americans are actually less likely to be found with contraband than white americans. Research has shown that an increase in the number of stops and searches among minorities does not lead to more drug seizures than stops and searches among white drivers. Truly, profiling-based searches result in less drug and contraband seizures (Warren, 2009). The main explanation for this issue other than the history of training by the DEA is systematic stereotyping based off of demographics. Demographics include appearance, race, time of day, & location. Yet, even when considering other demographics, race is the number one explanation of these disparities, as research shows that black people are stopped more frequently when compared to whites, even in the same exact location. The main demographic at risk are young minority men, as statistics show that this group is vulnerable to stops and searches by police officers at an alarmingly higher rate.
In response to the growing concern of the public of racially biased traffic enforcement, there have been an abundance of studies and research based on the issue. Lamberth’s 1996 research study of racial profiling along Interstate 95 in New Jersey is one of the most cited empirical studies of racial profiling and traffic stops before 9/11 (Dunn, 2009). The study consisted of comparisons by Lamberth of ticketing data from databases of all traffic stops and arrests by state police, with data from traffic surveys & violator surveys which were distributed by his team of researchers.
Lamberth did this in order to investigate the proportion of black motorists being stopped when compared to other races. The study found that black were stopped and ticketed by law enforcement at higher rates than other races. His findings were that only 15 percent of the people observed speeding in the violator survey were black, yet blacks were 46.2 percent of those that received traffic citations, a disparity of roughly 30 percent (Dunn, 2009). The statistics were too overwhelming for Lamberth to ignore or interpret as coincidental. This study shows that the issue of driving while black has been ongoing for over 20 years. Recent studies confirm that racial profiling drivers is still a current problem. In a study conducted by Stanford University it was found that out of 24 states, 19 of them stopped black americans more frequently than white americans.
After they are pulled over, black americans are more likely to be searched in all but one of the states measured, which was Virginia. This is despite research showing that black people are less likely to be carrying illegal substances & contraband. Additionally, black americans are more likely than whites to be arrested in all 13 states measured. This includes Massachusetts, Nevada, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, California, Arizona, Connecticut, South Carolina, Vermont, North Carolina, Florida, Montana, & Ohio (Stanford, 2015).
It’s undeniable that driving while black/brown is dangerous in the United States. Americans are infuriated by the injustices by police officers towards minorities, occuring on a daily basis, and rightfully so. There are several new stories a day in the United States of unarmed people of color being shot & killed by police officers. As discouraging as the problem is, I remain hopeful that one day this problem will be a rare occurrence instead of a daily headline. In order to fix the problem, traffic safety should be emphasized as an issue rather than regulatory enforcement by police officers. Additionally, reducing search rates in cases without any probable cause would be extremely effective as well. These types of reforms have already been tested and initiated in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The community in Fayetteville have become much more trusting of the police in their town after the reforms, and crime has decreased as well.