Friday, April 17, 2015
Why Wasn't I Ticketed Today for a Broken Taillight?
I Almost got a Ticket Today (For a broken brake light), But Didn’t. Why Not? I am long overdue for a traffic ticket, but been lucky so far. I was driving to school today on a 4 lane stretch of Tustin Avenue. The left lane is a left turn only lane. I was in the adjoining lane when I stopped behind two cars at a traffic light. I saw a police officer driving slowly in the left turn lane and then he stopped next to me and eyeballed me. We eyeballed each other and then he drove on. It was eerie. Why? What had I done wrong? It wasn’t speeding. I noticed the officer a few blocks earlier and obeyed the speed limit. I didn’t go through a red light or engage in a sliding California stop. I signaled before switching lanes. The car’s registration is current. No warrants are outstanding. So why? A passing driver 4 traffic lights later signaled my right brake light was out. I could have been ticketed through no fault of my own, but wasn’t. Why not? The answer lies in North Charleston, South Carolina, Ferguson, Missouri, and Los Angeles, California. It’s called aggressive traffic enforcement. Police engage in the practice on major holidays, such as New Year’s, Independence Day, Labor Day, and Memorial Day to reduce the carnage of drunk rivers. They set up checkpoints to catch and discourage drunk drivers. We applaud aggressive traffic enforcement in these scenarios. We do not applaud aggressive traffic enforcement in minority communities as a form of overzealous law enforcement. A 2011 Justice Department Study showed that Blacks are 31% more likely than whites to be pulled over for traffic violations. It creates a pressure cooker on a minority community. A spark, such as Officer Darrin Wilson’s shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, even if “by the book,” can cause the lid to blow with disastrous consequences. Aggressive traffic enforcement did not lead to the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, but it caused the subsequent explosion. I mentioned once before that I witnessed aggressive traffic enforcement in the spring of 1968 in Los Angeles. Three of us from USF Law School were attending a 9th Circuit meeting of the Law Student Division (LSD ?) of the American Bar Association at the University of Southern California. We had a break time and wandered onto Figueroa, which in itself was an education (For those of you unfamiliar with USC’s location, it is in a bad neighborhood as are many urban campuses). A police car pulled over an African American male driving an old car. Two officers got out of the car. One put his hands on what appeared to be a 3’ long baton and the other officer on his gun. They questioned and searched the driver and then let him go, saying ”I’m sorry Sir, your left rear tire is a little low.) We did not know at the time that aggressive traffic enforcement in South Central Los Angeles was standard operating procedure. We know the pressure cooker in Los Angeles has blown up twice: the 1965 Watts Riots and the 1992 Rodney King riots, both as a reaction against the police. The North Charleston, South Carolina shooting of Walter Scott by Officer Michael Slager was initially triggered by a traffic stop over a non-functioning third brake light. We’ve seen the video. A running Walter Scott was shot five times in the back by Officer Slager, who then apparently planted a Taser by Scott’s body. The shooting is a violation on its dace of Mr. Scott’s Civil Rights. North Charleston has not erupted in the Ferguson Riots. Mayor Keith Summer and Police Chief Eddie Driggers responded differently than Ferguson. Officer Slager was arrested for murder shortly after the video emerged. The investigation of the shooting was turned over the state. In addition, Chief was hired two years ago, out of retirement, with the express charge of building trust between the police and the African American community (47.2% of the population). Chief Driggers said of the video: “I have watched the video, and have been sickened by what I saw.” Why wasn’t I ticketed? The officer exercised his discretion. Is it because, even with a dark complexion, I am white?