- be stopped by the police;
- be asked to have their car searched;
- have everyone in the car checked to see if they are wanted by the police.
Some call it “driving while black or brown” because it affects Latinos too.
The cause is racial profiling: the police think blacks and Latinos are more likely to have guns and drugs. In one state 70% of the drivers they found with drugs were in fact black. It seems to prove their suspicions – until, that is, you find out that 70% to 75% of the cars they stopped and searched belonged to blacks!
I-95, the main road from New York City to Washington, DC, seems to be particularly bad. Blacks are four to five times more likely than whites to be stopped and have their car searched. Because the police see blacks as using that road to run drugs from New York. But black drivers on that road are no more likely to have drugs than whites.
Driving while black made news across the country in 1998 when two police officers shot and wounded three young unarmed black and Latino men on the New Jersey Turnpike. That is the part of I-95 that crosses the state of New Jersey. When the police searched the car there were no drugs, no guns – just basketball equipment and a Bible.
Blacks in New Jersey had been complaining for years about racial profiling, more than in other states. The police denied it. The governor doubted it. But the shooting led the state attorney general to look into it. He found that blacks were not imagining anything. Not that all or even most police officers were profiling blacks, but many were!
Nor was it even some kind of unthinking racism: the police practised something called “ghosting”: writing down the plate numbers of white drivers to report to stops they never made! They did that to make it seem like they were not just going after blacks and Latinos.
From 1998 to 2001 there was a huge burst of interest in driving while black, but little since. The Wikipedia, for example, does not take the subject seriously (as of August 2010). Neither does the NAACP these days except as rhetoric. Just the ACLU.
Yet it continues: in Los Angeles in 2004 black drivers were three times more likely than whites to be stopped and have their cars searched. In Illinois in 2008 it was also three times.
- Stay calm.
- Remember as much as you can: time, place, names, badge numbers, plate numbers, mile markers, billboards, etc. If something bad goes down, write everything you can remember as soon as possible.
- The police have no right to search you or your car unless you agree or unless they have a warrant. Even if you are not a citizen.
- If you step out of your car, lock it.
- For more see the ACLU website.
- ACLU: Know Your Rights: What To Do If You’re Stopped By Police, Immigration Agents or the FBI
- Illinois Traffic Stops Statistics Study 2008 Annual Report (PDF)
- The Green Book
- shopping while black
- The police
- The mass incarceration of black men
- black crime statistics
- Racially profiled: