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Driving While Black: Black Motorists in Missouri Twice as Likely to be Stopped

Do police tend to stop black drivers more often than other motorists? Many readers may be familiar with the expression, “driving while black,” which refers to the risk of being stopped by black Americans face on a regular basis. But, at least in Missouri, this an undeniable reality.

In a new report released by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, black drivers in his state are 91 percent more likely to be stopped by police than their fellow white citizens. Worse, this shows that there is a continuing trend demonstrating a widening gap within Missouri when it comes to police interactions and race.

Data from 2018 was collected, which reported on traffic stops and whether those stopped were local residents. Previous reports from the state attorney general have long observed a racial disparity in traffic stops in Missouri, but this is the first time state officials have taken the driver’s residency into account.

Somewhat ironically, the Attorney General Schmitt wanted to collect this data as a rebuttal to findings of a racial disparity. He argued that data regarding black drivers traveling in typically white areas being stopped had inflated these numbers, providing an incomplete picture. Instead, this new data served to reinforce these findings and even found the gap to be wider than previously believed to be.

That’s because this data also isolated traffic stops to those involving area residents. In one extreme example, the city of Blue Springs, near Kansas City, was found to stop black drivers, in general, 275 percent more often than white drivers. When only taking into account local drivers, that gap was discovered to be closer to 300 percent more often. In St. Louis County, all black drivers were stopped 80 percent more often than white drivers; when only looking at locals, black drivers were stopped over twice as often.

These findings come five years following the civil rights demonstrations in Ferguson, organized in protests against the police killing of Michael Brown. Since then, the racial disparity of police traffic stops have only widened.

The problem is not just that black motorists are being stopped at significantly high rates. Any time anyone interacts with police, there is a chance that use of force by law enforcement officers will be used — but this is even truer for black citizens.

In recently released data from police in Chicago, it was found that, when all else is equal, officers are much more likely to escalate their use of force — including use of lethal force — against black individuals than against whites.

In other terms, when black Americans have an interaction with law enforcement, which is demonstrably more likely in the first place, they also have a greater chance to being on the receiving end of high levels of force from police.

“Driving while black” is hardly a myth — it is a daily reality for millions of Americans.

This article was originally published on Care2 on June 22, 2019

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Writing about various things (mostly politics & social issues) for more than six years. Freelancer for hire.

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