Three Black Leaders Speak Out in CNN Opinion Piece about Black Traffic Stops by Police

By Kimberly Torres

ATLANTA, GA – Three Black leaders offer their solution to decrease police brutality against the Black community in an opinion piece this past week on CNN.

Patrick Gaspard is the president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, Rashad Robinson is president of Color of Change, America’s largest online racial justice organization and Nicholas Turner is president and director of Vera Institute of Justice, an organization dedicated to criminal justice reform.

“Traffic stops are poor tools for fighting crime and make the roadways markedly less safe for Black drivers,” they opined about traffic stops that have been targeting and continue to target low income and vulnerable Black men.

The writers added,  “Statistics show Traffic stops are one of the most common ways police encounter the public. Police make 20 million stops each year.

They note the 20 million stops are not at all necessary nor targeted efforts to deliver safety.

“Traffic stops are a major moneymaker…some towns and cities generate at least 10 percent of their annual budgets from traffic stop revenue,” stated the three Black leaders

Since the Black community has historically been targeted by the police, they argue, there has been evidence to support that “Black motorists are less likely than White drivers to possess illegal items such as drugs or weapons, but they are stopped more often, and after a traffic stop they are more likely to be searched.”

They continue to prove their point with statistical data by explaining how many of the routine stops made by the police are unnecessary all together.

“Of the 1,000 people killed by police each year, 10 percent involved traffic stops. The most common stated reasons for a traffic stop? One study found that nearly half were for minor issues such as a broken taillight, a defective or missing license plate or tinted windows,” their CNN opinion piece noted.

The three Black leaders urged that “changing the way traffic stops happen in this nation is foundational to any discussion about police reform.”

The authors of the CNN piece charge this issue of unnecessary traffic stops has been a country wide problem that has yet to be dealt with, not just on a local or state level. Leaving this issue up to the local authorities leaves other parts of the country in vulnerable positions.

“Traffic stops have proven to be deadly from coast to coast, but waiting for municipalities to solve the problem means that Black Americans living in these cities and states could be vulnerable any time they decide to travel. Immediate action is needed, and the Biden administration must take the lead,” said the three Black leaders.

The three Black presidents emphasize, “States and localities have an important role to play by passing laws and ordinances to end or at least limit the use of traffic stops for low-level issues that do not affect safety — such as a broken taillight or tinted windows.”

The three Black leaders praise state that have already taken positive measures in order to diminish police brutality following Tyre Nichols’ death, including “the Memphis City Council, which acquiesced to public demands and took a step in the right direction by considering an ordinance that will redirect police away from low-level traffic stops.”

They add, “Some states have adopted or are considering similar policies, including Virginia, Oregon and Washington, as well as the cities of Philadelphia and Chapel Hill, North Carolina…Meanwhile, prosecutors in Minnesota, Michigan and Vermont have found law enforcement practices resulting from traffic stops so gratuitously harmful that they have refused to charge cases that emerge from them.”

The Black leaders note, “The US Department of Transportation sends hundreds of millions of dollars each year in highway safety funding to states on the condition that localities engage in traffic enforcement. By reforming traffic stops, federal, state and local leaders can save countless lives.”

They continue, “States and cities can also eliminate the basis for millions of traffic stops in the first place by offering vouchers for free repairs and services to motorists to fix broken taillights, replace a defective or missing license plate, or renew a lapsed registration. Several counties and cities have launched these kinds of programs, including Long Island’s Suffolk County, New York and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.”

“Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg should instruct his department to disburse safety grants to localities that limit low-level traffic stops and rely on traffic enforcement methods other than police, including civilian traffic professionals who can address road safety issues without the intimidation — and possible danger — of a badge and a gun,” the CNN Op-Ed notes.

It adds, “None of these reforms require more policing, or more funding for police. They would all increase safety in Black communities that are overpoliced yet underserved. Police funding can go toward investigating and resolving real crimes, rather than undermining the legitimacy of law enforcement in our communities.”

Weeks after the initial killing of Nichols “The Department of Justice announced last week that it will review the use of force by the Memphis Police Department. It also plans to examine the operations of specialized police units such as the one responsible for killing Tyre Nichols,” the three Black leaders explain, adding, “The decision by federal authorities to launch a probe into the events that led to Nichols’ killing is welcome news.”

“As three Black men, we know firsthand the worry of whether the everyday act of driving will end in tragedy for ourselves, our brothers and sisters, or nieces and nephews and children — just as it did for Nichols,” the authors state.

They conclude, “As leaders of three of the nation’s largest organizations committed to criminal and racial justice, we understand that there are concrete steps we can take to enact policies that make traffic stops safer for our families and for all Black Americans.

“We, as a society, must stop incentivizing police departments to conduct traffic enforcement on what amounts to low-level offenses. We must not wait until the next tragedy to take action on these concrete steps forward…(it is) the best way to honor Tyre Nichols and countless others who have been surveilled, harassed and too often killed while doing something as simple as driving while Black.”

About The Author

Kim is a senior at California State University Long Beach majoring in criminal justice and criminology. She is a first generation college student, as well as a first generation Mexican-American. After graduation, she plans to study international affairs, in hopes of cultivating and improving a better system for all.

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