Black male drivers are police targets

A national survey of 577 traffic stops of Black male drivers by 200 police officers has found that the first 45 words spoken during the first 30 seconds to the drivers by the cops predictably determine the outcome of the traffic stop, according to the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study found that when police officers stop Black male drivers and order them without reason to behave in a certain manner, the Black male drivers are likely to experience anxiety and fear for their safety. In these instances, Black male participants in the study predicted the traffic stop would escalate in 84% of the cases.

In instances when traffic stops escalated, the cops ordered drivers, saying “Keep your hands on the wheel,†or “Turn the car off, †said Eugene Rho, a researcher at Virginia Tech University. Researchers studied police body cameras, and 82.6% of the traffic stops carried out on Black male drivers did not result in finding firearms, drugs, or other incriminating evidence.

The study opens with Trye Nickols who was arrested for allegedly speeding only to be pepper sprayed and beaten brutally by five Black Memphis cops. Nichols died two days later in a local hospital. The cops are no longer on the police force and the Scorpion Unit to which all five had been assigned has been dissolved.

The murder of Nickols illustrates how quickly police stops can escalate.

The murder of George Floyd after Minneapolis police officers led by Dereck Chauvin pulled Floyd out of his car and killed him by kneeing his neck for nine minutes. Floyd was arrested after he had attempted to purchase smokes with a counterfeit $20 dollar bill.

Following another traffic stop in Minnesota, Kim Potter, a member of the Brooklyn Center Police Department, shot and killed Daunte Wright, 20, during a traffic stop on April 11, 2020.

Potter claimed she was reaching for her taser and mistakenly grabbed her gun. Wright was pulled over by Potter for having air fresheners hanging from the review mirror.

The stopping of unarmed Black drivers who are killed by police officers also affects the mental health of the Black community.

Alayna Albrecht-Payton, who was a passenger in Daunte Wright’s car, said she is suffering severe psychological trauma since the deadly shooting.

She is not alone. A national survey of 40,000 Black men and Black women found that police killings were associated with the worst mental health crises among Blacks in the United States.

Nearly 18.7 million drivers are stopped by police each year in the United States. Black drivers are frequently stopped by police for discretionary reasons, including an expired registration, and broken license plate lights, minor concerns that pose little threat to public safety.

The study revealed that over 15 percent of Black male drivers experienced escalated outcomes during traffic stops that included searching the car, handcuffing, and arresting the driver, yet only 1% of White drivers experienced those escalated outcomes.

Police chiefs are urging officers to de-escalate encounters with Black men. Training in de-escalation techniques is being offered to police officers in many communities, and it is likely that these trainings will become mandatory.