Philly Lawmaker: Governor Must Veto State Attempts to Undo ‘Driving Equality’ in Tennessee

By Audrey Sawyer

PHILADELPHIA, PA – “Driving Equality” —in Memphis, Philadelphia, and a growing list of cities across the country—reclassifies the enforcement mechanism of minor vehicular violations like missing a single headlight or having items hanging from the car’s rear view mirror so they cannot be enforced primarily with a traffic stop.

But now, the state of Tennessee is attempting to repeal “Driving Equality.”

The Memphis City Council passed “Driving Equality” last year, which was led by Memphis Councilmember Michalyn Easter-Thomas, in collaboration with Philadelphia Councilmember Isaiah Thomas.

The effort was to replicate Thomas’s Philly bill, which reclassifies eight minor traffic violations to create a safer city for all.

The “Driving Equality” Act in honor of Tyre Nichols (named after the 29-year-old Black man was beaten to death in Memphis during a traffic stop) had passed unanimously by the Memphis City Council.

Isaiah Thomas explains, in a press statement, that “devastating incidents, like Tyre Nichols that deepen the distrust and trauma between law enforcement and communities of color often begin with a traffic stop.”

However, now Tennessee Republicans have passed a bill to override the current bill and allow police to make pretextual stops, without either speaking to the Nichols family or naming “Driving Equality” specifically, said Thomas.

Tennessee Democrats, he added, have warned the measure would undo unnecessary reforms without significant public safety implications, arguing traffic stops with public safety implications (like reckless driving and speeding) are not included in “Driving Equality” and therefore can (and should) be enforced with a traffic stop.

Councilmember Michalyn Easter-Thomas charges the Tennessee Legislature is “inserting state power into local politics when it is unnecessary.”

He added that the “Driving Equality” Act honoring Tyre Nichols had passed unanimously to provide a solution to improve community-police relations and the efficacy of traffic stops.

Easter-Thomas argued, “It did not only pass as a viable solution, but it was accompanied by a data component to best analyze practices. We are yet to see the positive impact that other cities have seen nationally due to the unwillingness of our state government to value local democracy.”

Councilmember Isaiah Thomas maintained “Driving Equality” be kept in Memphis “for the family of Tyre Nichols and the countless advocates who are fighting for a better tomorrow.”

Philadelphia was the first city in the nation to pass “Driving Equality” with Isiah Thomas’ office in partnership with Philadelphia Police Department, the Defender Association of Philadelphia, and other community groups had passed the bill along with an executive order from Mayor Kenney.

Councilmember Isaiah Thomas then passed a companion data bill tracking information around traffic stops to make sure the bill meets its intended goal without unintended consequences.

The bill has been enforced in Philadelphia for over a year, with data showing it reduces overall traffic stops without negatively impacting public safety, his office states.

Councilmember Isaiah Thomas said, “Traffic stops are often the first interaction between law enforcement and communities of color, which would often lead to mistrust and trauma. ‘Driving Equality’ seeks to remove negative interactions without negatively impacting public safety. The data and anecdotal evidence supports ‘Driving Equality’ not only in Philadelphia, but across the nation.”

About The Author

Audrey is a senior at UC San Diego majoring in Political Science (Comparative Politics emphasis). After graduation, Audrey plans on attending graduate school and is considering becoming a public defender.

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