The Sad Truth About Driving While Black In America
"Black drivers in America face a unique challenge. Even when we do everything right, things can still turn out wrong."
May 01, 2018 at 4:53 pm
Driving while black in America is a dangerous game. For years, black Americans have known this, but science and media are finally giving credence to the reality that black drivers are more likely to be pulled over, antagonized and arrested by cops for normal or harmless behavior compared to white people. And for people who simply don’t know what the black lived experience looks like, it can be like hearing about a whole other world.
But why police are more likely to pull over black drivers is a subject of much debate. Some people allege that it’s pure coincidence, that police pull over people who are breaking the law or acting suspiciously, and black people just happen to behave suspiciously more often than others. Others suggest that perhaps a link between poverty and criminality is to blame.
Still, others posit that perhaps, just maybe, cops are pulling black drivers over because they’re prejudiced against black drivers. And there’s good reason to believe that this, above all else, might be a major factor in the unequal treatment.
Studies have found that police are more likely to pull over black drivers, especially if they can easily see if the driver is black, suggesting that it’s the color of the driver’s skin that influences police decisions, not the driver’s actions. Furthermore, they’re subsequently more likely to search black drivers’ cars, issue tickets and even arrest them than drivers of other races.
There is a measurable difference in the way officers approach and handle black drivers compared to drivers of other races. The difference can often mean death for black drivers.
When Minor Infractions Turn Deadly
Officers aren’t just pulling black drivers over more often. They’re killing them, point blank, and their excuses for doing it are getting thinner and thinner.
In 2016, Philando Castile was killed by police officers after a routine traffic stop. He was pulled over for a broken tail light — a minor issue. A majority of white drivers would probably have been let off with nothing more than a brief chat to let them know they need to service their light. Castile was shot to death for letting the officer know that he had a registered firearm in the vehicle.
Sometimes they don’t do it on camera. Sandra Bland’s death will always remain a mystery, but what we do know is a woman who was pulled over for failing to signal a lane change, despite a license plate lookup, ended up brutalized by offers and arrested, and then died a few days later from an alleged suicide attempt.
This simply would not happen to white drivers on a regular basis without a fundamental restructuring of police forces. So why do officers continue to brutalize black drivers with impunity?
The Enemy In The Police Force
For black drivers, the real problem is that the enemy is hidden in plain sight. For years, the FBI has known that white supremacists have methodically infiltrated our nation’s law enforcement departments, leaving their mark in the form of over-policing, aggression and abusing their position to hurt the citizens they’re supposed to be protecting.
A white supremacist message board that was leaked even indicated that most white supremacists believe the police are on their side, given the evidence and their own personal knowledge of allies employed in the police force. If we’re imagining it, they are too.
Black drivers in America face a unique challenge. Even when we do everything right, things can still turn out wrong. In most cases it feels like complying obediently is the safest way to come out alive — but there’s no justice in a system that asks us to give up our freedom in the presence of any officer.