Traffic stops are a topic of national controversy because of the disproportionate way in which they affect people of color. In many cities, the practice of “stop-and-frisk” has been declared unconstitutional and rejected. According to a recent Philadelphia court case, African American drivers in the 14th District are more than three times as likely to be stopped and searched while driving than Caucasian drivers.
The 14th District is in Northwest Philadelphia and includes both the affluent Chestnut Hill neighborhood and some of Philly’s most disadvantaged communities. The Defender Association of Philadelphia analyzed statistics for the city and found that out of 22 police districts, the 14th District has the highest number of vehicle stops and that these stops lead to more arrests than in any other district.
Court-ordered changes to the way Philadelphia police can stop and search people have led to fewer stops of pedestrians on the streets. In Pennsylvania law, there are 69 different sections on vehicle violations, ranging from failure to come to a complete stop before a stop sign, to improper use of turn signals. Many of the violations are open to judgment, such as driving a reasonable distance behind another car. Any of these can be used to stop a driver, and, in the 14th District, they have often resulted in the car being searched.
A recently filed lawsuit against the city aims to show that African-American drivers are being profiled for stops. The 14th District is about 80 percent African-American, according to Census data. About 91 percent of vehicle stops are of African-American drivers and in the two service areas that have a majority African-American population, almost all vehicle stops involve African-American drivers. However, in the other two service areas, eight out of 10 stops were of African-American drivers.
Additionally, the analysis by the Defender’s Association says that although citywide, 80 percent of vehicle stops are of African-American drivers, a Caucasian driver is 40 percent more likely to receive a ticket. The suit cites this as evidence that African-American drivers are being targeted without sufficient grounds for traffic stops, even where they have committed no violation.
Internal reports show that officers have made as much as 98 percent stops against African-American drivers. The lawsuit aims to obtain the last five years of records from the police and district attorney regarding all citizen complaints and internal investigations of alleged racial profiling by officers in the 14th and neighboring districts to prove that police are deliberately targeting African-Americans.
If you have experienced a violation of your civil rights, you may be entitled to compensation. At Williams Cedar, our Philadelphia civil rights lawyers will advise you of your best legal strategy for obtaining the compensation you deserve. Call 215-557-0099 today or contact us online to schedule your free consultation. We have offices conveniently located in Philadelphia and Haddonfield, New Jersey, serving clients throughout Pennsylvania, South Jersey, and nationwide.