Actor Will Smith got a big laugh in “Men in Black II” when he pointed out that his car kept getting pulled over when a computer-animated black driver operated it. Unfortunately, the joke was accurate in 2002 when the movie was released and is still accurate today. This is according to a new study out of Stanford University, which collected data from 100 million traffic stops between 2011 and 2017. Researchers compiled data from 21 states and 29 municipal police departments, including nearly eight million stops here in New York state. When crunching that data, they found that Black and Latino drivers were stopped more often.
Key statistics in the study
Researchers looked at the data using three different metrics:
Daylight versus nighttime: Researchers found that there was a 5 to 10 percent drop in the share of drivers of color pulled over when it is dark and law enforcement could not easily determine the color of the driver when choosing to pull them over.
Minorities trended lower: Despite the higher number of searches of minority drivers, these yielded such contraband as illegal drugs or guns in 36 percent of the white drivers, 32 percent of black drivers and 26 percent of Latino drivers.
Marijuana legalization: States where the recreational use of marijuana was legal saw a reduction in the overall number of stops, but the rate of stops for minority drivers were still twice as high as white drivers.
Law enforcement training
Even though law enforcement officers are trained to recognize certain behaviors as the probable cause for pulling drivers over, officers are consciously or unconsciously profiling drivers of color. Moreover, because of the comprehensive nature of the study, the findings refute the “not in our state” mindset of racial profiling, revealing the numbers to be consistent across the country.
New York drivers of color who feel they are singled out are advised to consult with an attorney to ensure that their constitutional rights are protected. While this profiling may be accepted as a fact of life by those who witness it first hand, minorities have the same rights as everybody else.