Broken Taillight Policing
Driving While Black:
There are racial disparities in police stops—blacks are stopped twice as often as whites—but they aren’t related to traffic safety offenses, in which cops exercise a little less discretion and violations are equal within groups. Where we see a difference—even after we adjust for driving time (on average, blacks drive more and longer than whites)—is in investigatory stops. In these, drivers are stopped for exceedingly minor violations—driving too slowly, malfunctioning lights, failure to signal—which are used as pretext for investigations of the driver and the vehicle. Sanctioned by courts and institutionalized in most police departments, investigatory stops are aimed at “suspicious” drivers and meant to stop crime, not traffic offenses. And as the authors note, “virtually all of the wide racial disparity in the likelihood of being stopped is concentrated in one category of stops: discretionary stops for minor violations of the law.”
Black men aren’t so lucky. For them, the odds of being stopped this way start at 30 percent and don’t reach the 10 percent mark until they’re in their 50s. (For black women, it starts at roughly 20 percent and declines to under 10 percent by age 40.) Indeed, a black man at 70 is more likely to be stopped for a minor offense and investigated than a white man in his 30s, despite a much lower chance of criminal activity. The same pattern holds for your odds of being stopped more than once in a year; for young black men it’s upward of 35 percent, while for young white men it’s around 15 percent. Black men don’t reach 15 percent until their 40s, while the odds for white men dip to less than 10 percent by that time.
Race, age, and gender aren’t the only factors that affect your chances of being ensnared in an investigatory stop. It varies depending on location—black drivers in inner suburbs are most likely to be stopped, followed by those in outer suburbs and then those in urban cores—and on the type of car you’re driving. “Over the course of a year, an African American man under age 40 has a 21 percent chance of being stopped in an investigatory stop if his car is some make or model other than a domestic luxury car; his chance of being stopped jumps to 36 percent if he drives a domestic luxury car,” write the authors. And if you’re young, black, male, and drive an older domestic luxury car, your odds of an investigatory stop jump to 44 percent in a given year.
My emphasis added.