(Editor’s note: our readers asked me last week to segment the Monday Morning Thoughts column into separate parts, and I have obliged)
Last week we noted that on February 28, from 1 to 3 pm at the Davis Community Chamber, the HRC will be hosting the third annual Breaking the Silence of Racism Event.
During that discussion, one reader cited a report entitled, “The Racial Profiling Myth Debunked,” which argues, “The anti–racial profiling juggernaut has finally met its nemesis: the truth. According to a new study, black drivers on the New Jersey Turnpike are twice as likely to speed as white drivers, and are even more dominant among drivers breaking 90 miles per hour. This finding demolishes the myth of racial profiling.”
But does it? The problem of “proof” in social science which, as I was taught in day one in my methodology class in the Political Science Graduate Program at UC Davis. does not exist. Proofs are for mathematics, and statistical analysis can only show correlation from which we can draw inferences.
The 13-year-old article is a small snapshot of a much larger issue. The problem here is that police profile all the time. It could be a pretext stop, it could be a car that looks like it’s from out of the area. It could be a minor violation where the police are fishing for a citation or arrest. I’ve had police officers tell me that they do this. I’ve also been on ride-alongs enough to know that, much of the time, you can’t see the race of the driver, especially at night.
But there is, of course, other evidence that bolsters the claim. We have the case of Curtis V. Rodriguez v. California Highway Patrol,89 F. Supp. 2d 1131 (2000), from well over 12 years ago.
Here is the synopsis from the ACLU:
On June 6, 1998 Curtis Rodriguez, a Latino attorney from San Jose, observed five traffic stops and at least ten CHP and BNE vehicles within 10 miles. Everyone stopped was Latino. Rodriguez and his passenger, Arturo Hernandez, began taking pictures of the stops. Finally Rodriguez himself was pulled over by CHP, despite his efforts at obeying all traffic laws.
The officer told Rodriguez he had pulled him over because his car touched the line and had turned his headlights on.
“The officer told me he was going to search the car for weapons,” said Rodriguez. “I refused permission for the search. Since I’m attorney, I know my rights. The officer had no probable cause to search the car, so I refused consent to search. Unfortunately, the officer refused to respect my legal rights. He ordered me out of the car and searched the car, without my permission. Of course, he found nothing illegal. The officer then checked out my license, my passenger’s license and my insurance papers, and after ten minutes, he ordered us back into the car. We sat waiting twenty more minutes in the car, and then finally, he told us we could go. He didn’t issue me a ticket, because I didn’t do anything wrong.”
In response to this Rodriguez joined with the ACLU-NC and the San Francisco based law firm Keker & Van Nest to file suit against CHP. During the lawsuit, it was found that Latinos were approximately three times more likely to be searched by CHP officers than whites in the Central and Coastal Divisions, and African-Americans were approximately twice as likely to be searched in those divisions.
Nearly four years later a settlement was finally reached, and CHP committed to making wide spread reforms. Among these included no longer allowing CHP to use traffic violations as an excuse for stopping and searching a car for illegal drugs unless the officers have probable cause or reasonable suspicion of drug activity. CHP has also declared a moratorium on consent searches until 2006.
Further, Comprehensive data must be collected for each stop including race, the reason for the stop, whether a search was conducted and the legal basis for the search, as well as the results of the stop and search.
“Today’s settlement marks a turning point in the fight against racial profiling in California,” said Curtis Rodriguez, a plaintiff in the case. “This settlement is important because it will make our highways safer for everyone; Latino and African American motorists will no longer have to live in fear of being stopped and searched simply because of the color of their skin.”
Critics will naturally focus on the fact that this was a settled case, but the facts are remarkable here – the fact that Latinos were three times more likely to be searched when pulled over, and African-Americans were twice as likely when pulled over, gives credibility to the notion of a pretext stop where the purpose of the stop is not the infraction but rather to use it to search the car.
They may have settled the case to avoid an admission or finding of fact, but, more importantly, they changed the practice.
Following the “lawn mowing while black incident” the Human Relations Commission met with Assistant Chief Darren Pytel and went over years of data on traffic stops in Davis by race. The data were inconclusive. The problem we faced was this: community members for years believe that racial profiling is prevalent in Davis. Davis Police Officers do not believe that they are doing this.
The solution? Find out next week.
—David M. Greenwald reporting