Philadelphia City Council has passed a Racial Inequality Bill that will prohibit police from conducting traffic stops for minor infractions.
“Being arrested by law enforcement is a rite of passage for black men. It’s something we all know we’re going to have to go through,” board member Isaiah Thomas said of the bill. . “I’ve been arrested so many times I’ve lost count.”
People of color are 3.4 times more likely to be stopped than white drivers, according to an analysis from WPVI-TV in Philadelphia. Supporters of the bill argue the stops are a pretext to search vehicles, leading to distrust of the police among black and Latino drivers.
Thomas recalled an incident in which he was pulled over for having a broken tail light, only finding it was not broken the next day when he brought it to a mechanic. According to Michael Mellon, head of the Philadelphia Public Defenders Police Accountability Unit, a broken light is the most common minor offense for which city drivers are arrested.
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In a 14-2 vote, the council decided to ban this and other minor violations that do not pose an imminent security threat.
Mellon said he had driven in Philadelphia his entire life, including some of the city’s most heavily guarded areas for investigations. But as a white man, Mellon said he had never been arrested by Philadelphia police.
“The only real answer we have here is that there is racial bias in the police themselves,” Mellon said.
So far this year, black drivers have accounted for 76.7% of traffic stops in the city, roughly double their share of the city’s population. Black drivers are 5.2 times more likely to be stopped than white drivers, while Native American drivers were 5.7 times more likely to be stopped. Meanwhile, Latino drivers were 1.6 times more likely to be stopped than white drivers.
Mellon said city police have set up “traveling checkpoints” which typically impact predominantly minority areas and “stop whoever they want”, mostly for minor traffic violations. He also noted that the judgments were difficult to challenge due to a Supreme Court ruling ruling them legal.
“The United States Supreme Court has given police the green light to profile people racially,” Mellon said. “The only thing they know how to do is stop cars and maybe they’ll get lucky and find something.”
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Of all the traffic stops in the city this year that resulted in a police search of the vehicle, 94% of the drivers were people of color. But searches of white vehicles are more likely to reveal contraband, according to the analysis.
“The way black men are often searched, especially here in the city of Philadelphia, when they are arrested by law enforcement, puts you in a position where you are often very, very uncomfortable. “said Thomas.
The bill will now go to the office of Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney for signature.
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