Study: Black drivers in NC pulled over more than twice as often as white drivers

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Police stopped Black drivers more than twice the rate of white drivers last year in North Carolina, a state study found.

The study by the North Carolina Criminal Justice Analysis Center, a division of the Governor’s Crime Commission, broke down the millions of traffic stops between 2009-19 by race and gender.

One key finding: Out of every 100,000 Black drivers, roughly 25,000 of them — or, about 25 percent — were stopped by police in 2019. Meanwhile, police stopped about 12 percent of white drivers that year.

“This analysis is just a small part of a larger look into our criminal justice system that is currently happening,” Caroline Valand, the executive director of the Governor’s Crime Commission, told CBS 17 News. 

“And we hope that this indicator — a small indicator, but an indicator — does advance the conversation on how all people are represented in our criminal justice system in North Carolina.”

Even more attention has been put on police conduct in the months since George Floyd died in police custody in May and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed in dozens of cities across the country.

The analysis of North Carolina data also showed traffic stops of Black drivers took place at a disproportionate rate.

Of the roughly 1.25 million total stops in 2019, more than 35 percent of those — slightly fewer than 500,000 — were Black drivers. But Black people make up just 22 percent of the population, which is 70 percent white.

While the study shows the rate of stops for Black drivers fell by 15 percent over the 10-year period, that rate dropped even more drastically for white drivers, falling by 28 percent.

Frank Baumgartner, a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina who wrote a book about the racial disparities in traffic stop searches. He first spoke to CBS 17 News about the subject last May.

“I think what (the data) show is that African American and Latinx have known their entire lives, that they run a risk when they get in the car,” he told CBS 17 News. “They’re liable to be the object of scrutiny from police officers for reasons that white individuals would be unlikely to be able to understand because it doesn’t happen to us.”

The study found 40 percent of traffic stops during that 10-year span were for speeding with another 29 percent for vehicle regulatory or equipment violations.

But while white motorists were more likely to be pulled over for speeding, Black drivers were stopped at a significantly higher rate for those other vehicular issues, according to the study.

“Even a technical violation of the law provides the legal opportunity and justification for a police officer to have a little conversation with you,” Baumgartner said. “And he may let you go because the conversation reassures him or her that you’re up to nothing wrong. But being subjected to that scrutiny is an element of really high discretion on the part of the police officers.

“And I think what these data are showing the same thing consistently over time and across different places — it’s not limited to North Carolina, of course — what they show is that elements of discretion leads to racial disparities.”

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