National Geographic : 2018 Apr
104 national geographic • april 2018 Vermont 5,000 Whites are more likely to be stopped than blacks in three states. Cook County, Illinois* 972,000 Driving-age black population Tennessee 851,000 Colorado 169,000 Nearly 14 million black Americans of driving age live in the 17 states where data are available; results show they are more likely to be stopped than whites. 1.4 1.3 Texas 2.5 million 2.8 times as likely 1.2 times as likely Massachusetts 366,000 Arizona 217,000 South Carolina 1 million 1.5 1.7 1.7 2.3 North Dakota 13,000 2.3 Montana 4,000 2.8 Florida 2.4 million California 1.8 million Mississippi 841,000 Washington 210,000 Virginia 1.3 million New Jersey 918,000 Ohio 1.1 million North Carolina 1.7 million Wisconsin 265,000 Connecticut 282,000 1.2 1.3 1.3 1.2 1.4 1.4 1.4 1.5 1.5 1.4 searched by police, although they are no more likely to be carrying contraband. Across the country, law-abiding black and His- panic drivers are left frightened and humiliated by the inordinate attention they receive from po- lice, who too often see them as criminals. Such treatment leaves minorities feeling violated, an- gry, and wary of police and their motives. Activists have taken to the streets to protest po- lice shootings of unarmed black people. Athletes, including National Football League players, have knelt or raised clenched fists during the singing of the national anthem at sports events to try to shine a light on lingering inequality. Vereen had always told his children that the police were real-life superheroes. Now that sto- ry had to change. “Everything I told them seems to be untrue,” said Vereen, 34. “ Why is this super- hero trying to hurt my dad? Why is this superhero doing this to us? He is supposed to be on our side.” THE FIRST TIME my now 28-year-old son was stopped by police, he was a high school student in Baltimore, Maryland. He was headed to a bar- ber shop when he was startled by flashing lights and the sight of two police cars pulling up behind him. The stop lasted just a few minutes and re- sulted in no ticket. It seems the cops just wanted to check him out. My son’s fear morphed into in- dignation when an officer returned his license, saying, “A lot of vehicles like yours are stolen.” He was driving a Honda Civic, one of the most popular cars on the road. Shaken by cases in which seemingly routine traffic stops turn deadly, many black parents re- hearse with their children what to do if they are pulled over: Lower your car window so officers have a clear line of sight, turn on the interior lights, keep your hands visible, have your license and registration accessible, and for God’s sake, let the officer know you are reaching for them so he doesn’t shoot you. Drivers of all races worry about running afoul of the rules of the road. But blacks and Hispanics, in particular, also worry about being stopped if they are driving a nice car in a modest or upscale community, a raggedy car in a mostly white one, or any kind of car in a high-crime area. It affects everyone, from ministers and professional ath- letes to lawyers and the super-rich. “It’s been more times than I care to remember,” said Robert F. Smith, 55, a private equity titan and philanthropist, when asked how often he thinks he has been racially profiled. Smith, with a net worth of more than three billion dollars, is listed by Forbes as the nation’s wealthiest African Amer- ican. Yet he still dreads being pulled over. “A very familiar feeling comes each time I’m stopped,” he said. “And that’s the same feeling I got the first time I was stopped, when I was 17 years old.” Rosie Villegas-Smith, a Mexican-born U.S. citizen who has lived in Phoenix, Arizona, for 28 years, has been stopped a couple of times by Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies, who are notorious for using allegations of minor traffic violations to check the immigration status of Hispanic drivers. In 2011 federal investigators found that the department pulled over Hispanic drivers up to nine times more often than other motorists. The stops were part of a crackdown on undocumented immigrants ordered by Joe Arpaio, the Maricopa County sheriff from 1993 to 2016. Courts ruled the stops illegal, but Arpaio pressed ahead and was found guilty of criminal DIVIDED HIGHWAYS When Stanford University researchers requested highway traffic-stop data from all 50 states, about half responded, but many states didn’t track race. What the researchers discovered, however, paints a data picture of what had long been anecdotal: In 2015 black American motorists were more likely to be stopped, searched, and arrested than white drivers, even though they were no more likely to be carrying contraband. *COOK, WHICH INCLUDES CHICAGO, WAS THE ONLY COUNTY IN ILLINOIS THAT PROVIDED DATA, BUT IT REPRESENTS 68% OF THE STATE’S BLACK POPULATION.