National Geographic : 2018 Apr
WOODROW VEREEN, JR. (previous page) Fairfield Avenue, Bridgeport, Connecticut (2015) Vereen’s two young sons were riding with him when he was stopped and searched by police for running a yellow light. He won a cash settlement after suing police over the illegal search and now struggles with what to tell his children about how to regard the police. BY MICHAEL A. FLETCHER PHOTOGRAPHS BY WAYNE LAWRENCE A n idyllic afternoon of Little League baseball followed by pizza and Italian ice turned harrowing when two police officers in Bridgeport, Connecticut, stopped Woodrow Vereen, Jr., for driving through a yellow light. A music minister at his church, Vereen strug- gled to maintain eye contact with his young sons as one of the officers instructed Vereen, who is black, to get out of the car and lean over the trunk, and then patted him down. Vereen could see tears welling in the eyes of his seven- and three-year- old sons as they peered through the rear window. He cringed as folks at a nearby bus stop watched one of the officers look through his car. He never consented to the 2015 search, which turned up nothing illegal. The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut sued on behalf of Vereen, alleging that police searched him with- out probable cause. Last year, two years after the incident, he received a settlement from the city. His tickets—for running a light and not carrying proof of insurance—were dismissed. Yet the stop lives with him. Traffic stops—the most common interaction between police and the public—have become a focal point in the debate about race, law enforce- ment, and equality in America. A disproportionate share of the estimated 20 million police traffic stops in the United States each year involve black drivers, even though they are no more likely to break traffic laws than whites. Black and His- panic motorists are more likely than whites to be ONLINE To hear more about the experiences of those who were interviewed for this story, go to ngm.com/thestop. JAHMAL COLE West 95th Street, Chicago, Illinois (Stopped in 2017) Cole was pulled over near his Chicago home by a police officer who wrongly claimed he was not wearing a seat belt. Cole, whose aunt had been accidentally shot and killed by a Chicago officer in 2015, said it was his fourth police stop in a two-month period. About this story: The Undefeated—an ESPN website that explores the intersection of race, culture, and sports—teamed up with National Geographic to ask people of color across the U.S. what it’s like to be racially profiled during a traffic stop, and the ripple effect such incidents can have on families and communities. This report also will appear on TheUndefeated.com.