ABlack driver was correct when he predicted in his December 2017 Facebook live video that Iowa police would stop him for no good reason—and now he’s getting paid for the violation of his rights.
Data shows that police officers across the nation disproportionately pull over Black drivers for minor offenses—real or imagined. They use it as a pretext to conduct unconstitutional searches, yet relatively few of the many instances wind up in court, much less with a settlement.
Des Moines, Iowa officials agreed on Tuesday to settle Lonnie Porter’s lawsuit for $25,000, the Des Moines Register reported.
Porter had a critical piece of evidence from his Dec. 6 encounter with the Des Moines police officer: a video that captured exactly what happened.
In the 13-minute long Facebook live video, Porter began recording before Officer Sean O’Neill pulled him over. The officer told the 41-year-old driver that his temporary license plate was not fully visible. However, the video showed that the paper tag, typically given for new vehicle purchases, was displayed in the back window. In the video and the lawsuit, Porter said the stop was bogus.
“You can’t see the date?” Porter asks the officer. “I get it. I get it. I get it. You see what I’m talking about, Facebook?”
Ultimately, the officer did not write a ticket.
That driving while Black incident is all too common. A Black driver is about 31 percent more likely to get pulled over by an officer than a white driver, according to the Washington Post. At the same time, Cops are more likely to stop Black drivers for vehicle defects, such as a broken taillight, or for a records check than other races. Civil liberties organizations call those incidents “pretext stops” that are used to justify a search.
“Pretextual traffic stops are not only unfair, but they also drive system-wide racial disparities on the basis of race. They are inherently dishonest, and for people of color, we’ve seen too many times that they are dangerous,” Mark Stringer, ACLU of Iowa executive director, told NewsOne. For every police encounter that results in injury or death, there are thousands more that don’t, but those stops still lead to fear and distrust in police.
Like many police departments, law enforcement agencies across Iowa don’t collect race data for all stops made by their officers, Stringer noted.
“We believe they should. Not just for arrests or where officers issue a ticket but for all stops—including ones where no ticket is issued or no arrest is made–to give a more complete picture of what’s going on in terms of policing in Des Moines,” he added.
A lack of evidence often makes it difficult to win driving while Black lawsuits. As with Porter’s case, a cellphone video helped a Black driver and his brother to win a $212,000 settlement from Colorado Springs officials in 2017.
The Des Moines Police Department denied that O’Neill racially profiled Porter. But then, these denials from the police are typical.