Every time a person interacts with law enforcement, they are in one of three phases. They are either 1) free to go, 2) detained, or 3) under arrest. Justice101 teaches vulnerable populations to terminate the interaction at the earliest opportunity. However, Thaddeus Johnson and Natasha Johnson published an article in the February edition of Time Magazine that suggests a different approach — if we want to decrease interactions with law enforcement, we need to decrease the number of traffic stops.
Time’s article centers around the recent beating and death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis at the hands of members of Memphis’ police force. On January 7, 2023, Nichols was pulled over by police, after which they viciously beat him. Nichols died three days later due to “extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating.”
According to the Johnsons’ article, Nichols’ death is yet another reminder to certain populations within the United States that all too often, interactions with law enforcement turn deadly for those stopped by police. This is made all the worse by pretextual policing, where officers stop a person who, while they are arguably committing a traffic violation, the police wish to investigate other, unrelated possible criminal activity.
The most common way an American encounters law enforcement is through a traffic stop. In fact, police pull over more than 50,000 drivers daily in the United States. While many of these stops are with the intent to keep the roads safe, the Johnson’s assert a large number are simply pretextual policing. Moreover, they assert that pretextual policing is more likely to impact Black drivers, particularly young, Black men. Importantly, “while Black male drivers are more likely to be searched, they are less likely to be found with contraband.”
While the article recognizes that many state and local governments have made changes following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN in 2020 — more work must be done. Essentially, the article explains different ways in which police forces can re-focus their priorities away from mundane traffic stops, and instead focus on higher impact police activities, such as more serious violations of speeding and running traffic lights, as well as spending time handling routine calls and interacting with citizens. Basically, a focus on “community building, innovative problem-solving, effective communication, and civility.”
What do you think? How do you feel about how police officers spend their typical day? Do you think it would be improved if communities took the steps suggested in the Johnson’s article? Let us know!
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