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For Blacks, traffic stops can be life or death

Melvin B. Miller
For Blacks, traffic stops can be life or death
“Should we pull over or make a run for it.”

The brutal beating of Rodney King by officers from the Los Angeles Police Department in 1991 aroused Americans to the danger to Blacks from encounters with police. The fortuitous videotaping of the police attack on King enabled citizens everywhere to witness violent police misconduct.

There have been numerous stop-and-frisk type confrontations since the King event. In 2015, Walter Scott was gunned down by a North Charleston, South Carolina police officer as he ran away from the car. Michael Slager, the offending police officer, relied on the conventional assertion that he feared personal harm and injury.

That same year, Sandra Bland was stopped in Texas for her failure to use a turn signal. She was on her way to an administrative job at the nearby Prairie View A&M, a historically Black college. When she vigorously protested being stopped, Bland was arrested, and she was found hanged in her jail cell the next day. Police authorities insisted that she committed suicide.

Your car doesn’t even have to be moving for trouble to come your way. Rayshard Brooks fell asleep in his car in the parking lot of an Atlanta Wendy’s.  Startled when awakened by the police, he instinctively ran off and was shot to death even though he was unarmed and no danger to others.

The list of Blacks who have been killed by the police after minor traffic stops is known in the Black community. Daunte Wright was stopped for driving with expired tags in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. He died while resisting arrest and was shot by a police officer who thought she was firing her taser.

There is such a high record of fatalities when the police pull over a car, it is not unreasonable for a driver to try to outrun the police, especially to reach a less isolated spot. A report by the New York Times last fall found that in the preceding five years, police had killed more than 400 motorists who were not being pursued for a violent crime nor wielding a gun or knife.

For many Blacks, police officers do not seem like “officer friendly,” but more like Nazi stormtroopers. It is a better policy for the police to ignore petty automotive offenses by ordinary citizens. There still are many other ways to attain access to serious criminals.