New report finds cops killed 400+ unarmed people in 5 years during traffic stops — many for minor infractions
A New York Times investigation found that in five years police officers killed more than 400 people who weren't in possession of a gun or knife and weren't suspected of a violent crime, yet only five of the officers have been convicted in connection with the killings. The more likely outcome was a lawsuit, which played out with local governments (i.e. taxpayers) paying at least $125 million in 40 wrongful death suits, the Times reported. Journalists David Kirkpatrick, Steve Eder, Kim Barker, and Julie Tate wrote in the piece that Black drivers were overrepresented in the number of deaths when compared to the population, and they were stopped over minor infractions like red light violations or driving with broken taillights. "In case after case, officers said they had feared for their lives," the reporting team wrote. "And in case after case, prosecutors declared the killings of unarmed motorists legally justifiable.
"But The Times reviewed video and audio recordings, prosecutor statements and court documents, finding patterns of questionable police conduct that went beyond recent high-profile deaths of unarmed drivers. Evidence often contradicted the accounts of law enforcement officers."
Some 24 cases involving the officers are pending, while only five officers have actually been convicted in relation to killings, the Times reported. Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murdering George Floyd when the white Minneapolis cop kneeled on the Black father's neck for more than nine minutes, was one of two officers sentenced to considerable time in prison. One cop got away with only probation, the Times reported. Another served seven months in prison, and cases involving the other two officers are still playing out in court, one of whom will have his appeal considered by the Texas Supreme Court, the Times reported.
The latter case is that of former North Texas police officer Roy Oliver, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison after being convicted of shooting and killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, The Texas Tribune reported. The teen was riding in a car that was driving away from officers, who had been called to a house party to investigate alleged underage drinking on April 29, 2017, Texas Monthly reported.
While Oliver was prosecuted, that was not a common outcome in the cases The New York Times investigated. In more than 150 statements from prosecutors tasked with holding officers accountable for the deaths, many of them blamed the drivers. "Prosecutors and courts give more leeway to officers' decisions to use force at vehicle stops, as a result of the exaggerated concern about the potential for officers getting hurt," Michael Gennaco, a police consultant and former Justice Department prosecutor, told the Times. "Officers would likely kill fewer drivers if there were deterrence."
The Philadelphia City Council and Mayor Jim Kenney seem to have taken steps in the right direction along those lines by passing the Driving Equality Bill, which is aimed at banning officers from pulling over drivers for low-level vehicle infractions and instead allowing officers to mail citations. Kenney told The Hill he signed the bill into law on Wednesday and his administration intends to implement it and accompanying legislation through executive action. The companion legislation requires officers to keep and make public data on traffic stops at least monthly.
"This is something that is historic that could put us in a position where we're addressing an issue that has been plaguing Black communities," the Driving Equality bill's author Isaiah Thomas told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "Philadelphia is leading the nation when it comes to this particular issue."
The U.S. Supreme Court began allowing officers to use minor traffic infractions as a means to investigate unrelated crimes in 1996, but the end result of that allowance has been cops disproportionately stopping Black and Latino drivers "despite those drivers being no more likely to be found to be carrying anything illegal," the newspaper reported of studies.
"A person of color's first exchange with a police officer shouldn't be during a discriminatory traffic stop," Thomas said in a June news release. "By working closely with the Philadelphia Police Department, we were able to identify traffic stops that do nothing to keep people safer and remove the negative interaction.
"I believe this Philadelphia legislation can set a precedent for other cities, not only through the policy itself but through the collaborative process."
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