The city of Philadelphia has taken steps to outright ban its police officers from initiating traffic stops for minor infractions, a move that should prompt a collective sigh of relief for Black drivers, in particular, who are disproportionately targeted for such moving violations.
The Philadelphia Driving Equality Bill specifically prohibits city cops from making any traffic stops for “secondary violations” that include cars having a broken taillight or displaying registration or inspection stickers incorrectly.
The bill was signed into law by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney on Wednesday in an effort to endear police with the communities that they serve.
“Today, I signed an executive order to implement the legislation outlined in the Driving Equality bills, introduced by councilmember Isaiah Thomas,” Kenney said in a tweet. “This legislation establishes Philadelphia as the first large U.S. city to ban minor traffic stops with the goal of healing police-community relations.”
What Kenney did not mention is how much less stressful driving while Black will be for motorists in a city that is about 44 percent Black. Councilman Thomas didn’t mention it either when he said that “Data and lived experiences showed us the problem.”
Those “lived experiences” Thomas talked about, though, were likely provided by Black drivers, who, statistics show are most likely to be pulled over by police for the aforementioned “secondary violations” — or pretextual stops — that white motorists get passes for.
In Philadelphia, Black drivers are more than three times as likely to be stopped for such “secondary violations” than motorists from any other group, according to an analysis by ABC News conducted last year.
Proponents of the traffic stops for “secondary violations” say that such policing can often lead to larger discoveries of illegal behavior, including possession of drugs and guns. However, ABC News reported that its research found “Black Americans who were stopped were less likely to be found possessing contraband than white Americans,” including in Philadelphia.
Of course, it’s not only Black drivers who get this type of treatment from police.
Using information obtained through public record requests, the Stanford Open Policing Project examined almost 100 million traffic stops conducted from 2011 to 2017. It involved 21 state patrol and 29 municipal police departments, including Philadelphia.
“The results show that police stopped and searched black and Latino drivers on the basis of less evidence than used in stopping white drivers, who are searched less often but are more likely to be found with illegal items. The study does not set out to conclude whether officers knowingly engaged in racial discrimination, but uses a more nuanced analysis of traffic stop data to infer that race is a factor when people are pulled over — and that it’s occurring across the country,” NBC News reported at the time.
The Associated Press drew attention to how such traffic stops can result in deaths like Sandra Bland’s untimely demise in Texas after she was pulled over for failing to signal a lane change while she was driving. In South Carolina, Walter Scott was gunned down after fleeing from police that pulled him over for a broken taillight. And who can forget Daunte Wright? He was pulled over just this year in suburban Minneapolis for having too many air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror. Police shot him to death after he refused to comply with their orders.
It is in that context that Philadelphia’s new ban on police making pretextual traffic stops for “secondary violations” was likely especially being hailed by Black drivers. Only time will tell if other cities take a cue from Philadelphia, which is giving cits cops a two-month grace period before the ban officially goes into place in February.