“Investigatory” Traffic Stops Need to End

School cafeteria worker Philando Castile was shot to death yesterday in the Minneapolis area after being pulled over for a broken taillight. Photo: Facebook via Hollywood Life
A police officer shot Philando Castile to death after pulling him over for a broken taillight.

The images are excruciating — Philando Castile, bleeding to death as his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter look on. A cafeteria supervisor in the St. Paul School District, Castile was pulled over by officer Jeronimo Yanez in the neighboring town of Falcon Heights for having a broken taillight. Yanez fatally shot Castile after he informed the officer that he was carrying a licensed firearm then reached for his driver’s license and registration, according to Castile’s partner, Diamond Reynolds.

One thread that Castile’s death shares with many other cases where police officers have used deadly force against black Americans is that the officer initiated the encounter with a traffic stop, notes David Levinson at the Transportist:

Cars (and their drivers) kill 30000-40000 people a year in the US (and are way up this past year) and 1.25 Million globally. This is terrible. It is the highest rate among high-income countries. It justifies many things, including engineering safer roads, educating better drivers at the training stage, designing better vehicles and especially driverless cars, ongoing education programs, reduction in drunk driving, and yes enforcement.

But does that enforcement, which should be aimed at making our roads safer, require armed police officers pulling over men of color at a disproportionate rate because one tail light is out, and shooting them? Is this “enforcement” really about traffic safety? Or rather, is this just another way for municipalities to raise money in fines for minor violations, as was done in Ferguson, Missouri, or discourage people “who don’t belong” from traveling on the quiet streets of someone else’s neighborhood.

In their book Pulled Over, researchers Charles Epp and Steven Maynard-Moody refer to the widespread practice of “investigatory stops,” in which law enforcement agencies use stops for minor transgressions as pretenses to sweep up and search large numbers of people of color, a tactic derived from the “broken windows” theory of policing. The result is policing that is both discriminatory and ineffective in reducing traffic violence.

Ending traffic stops based on profiling is a plank in Campaign Zero, the public policy initiative created by Black Lives Matter activists. Also among the many policy recommendations in the full platform: decriminalizing jaywalking and biking on the sidewalk.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Bike Portland reports that affordable housing advocates have prevailed over a proposal to require more car parking near major transit stops. And Mobilizing the Region says air quality alerts should remind us to make investments in biking, walking, and transit, rather than just warning us to stay indoors.

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