Recently, in conversations in the Creating A Family online community, we were discussing the realities of life for African Americans in the US and about “driving while black.” Several members of the group described incidences that had happened to them personally. Few of us white folks could report any such incidences, and even though these conversations were all anecdotal, we believe it was not coincidental and could be supported by research. Turns out it can.
A new book, Suspect Citizens: What 20 Million Traffic Stops Tell Us About Policing and Race analyzes every traffic stop in the state of North Carolina from 2002 to 2016—that is over 20 million traffic stops. In 1999, North Carolina was the first state to pass a law requiring that data on all traffic stops be recorded. The idea behind the law was to settle once and for all if “driving while black” was a legitimate grievance. From a research standpoint, this is a treasure trove because it takes out of the equation sample bias. After analyzing all the stops since 2002, we have our answer.
Blacks are almost twice as likely to be pulled over as whites – even though whites drive more on average. Blacks are more 4 times more likely to be searched following a stop, but less likely to be found with drugs, guns, alcohol or other forms of contraband after discretionary searches. Hispanic drivers are much less likely to be found with contraband after a search, compared to whites.
So, in case anyone is still wondering why we need to talk with our black kids about “driving while black”, this report answers that question.
Here is the link to the book.
Here is a link to a newspaper article.
Here is a link to the author’s 2012 report on the data (since it is shorter and free).
Here is a link to a podcast interviewing the author.