discrimination and hate, equality, racism

Racism (7): Racial Profiling and “Driving While Black” in Illinois; A Case Study

racial profiling Driving While Black


Via The Atlantic, some information from the 2008 Annual Report of Illinois Traffic Stops:

Based on the data that emerges, it’s clear that African-American, Hispanic, and American Indian drivers are in fact being stopped more than one would expect based on their overall representation in the driving population. But the 2008 study also concludes that inferring from this that there is police bias is “problematic because [it] assume[s] that an officer knows the race of the driver before they make the stop. Very often, particularly at night, and when the vehicles are driving quickly, this is not the case”.

Regarding “consent searches” – instances where the police ask permission to search a car and therefore clearly know the race of the driver before they ask permission – and the number of such searches resulting in the discovery of contraband:

An African-American driver is about three times as likely to be the subject of a search as a Caucasian driver, with a Hispanic driver 2.4 times as likely to be the subject of a search. But when vehicles are searched, whites are more often found to be hiding contraband. Police found contraband 24.37 percent of the time when a white agreed to a search, but just 15.14 percent of the time with a minority driver. This finding is consistent with other studies nationwide. … One explanation for the disparity in consent searches may simply be that “whites are more tuned in to their constitutional rights, so they decline more often”.

So perhaps the fact that black drivers have their cars searched more often isn’t necessarily a sign of racism – whites may indeed be more likely to refuse to be searched. But the fact that whites are more likely to hide contraband should incite the police to search – or try to search – the cars of whites more often, and that doesn’t seem to happen. Why not? Well… If it’s not racism, then perhaps it’s a lack of interest in contraband.

More on racial profiling.


3 thoughts on “Racism (7): Racial Profiling and “Driving While Black” in Illinois; A Case Study

  1. Jazz says:

    I don’t understand how white drivers having a higher percentage of contraband correlates to their higher inclination to decline a search (or vice versa)?

    If white drivers decline more often because they ‘know their rights’, they should get caught less often than other ethnicities, right? Especially since it would seem logical for drivers to decline a search when they are in the posession of contraband.

    Why would this correlate the other way around?

  2. Hi Jazz. Perhaps I wasn’t very clear. What I meant to say was that – because of previous experience with higher numbers of whites “being caught red-handed”, the police should know that whites are more likely to be holding contraband. When they know this – as they should – they should be willing and able to search whites more often than blacks, and not vice versa. And the supposed reluctance of whites to be searched (with “knowing their rights” and being less reluctant to stand up for them) shouldn’t explain the actual lower number of searches of whites. Even if you grant that whites know their rights better – which isn’t obvious – this can’t in and by itself explain the lower number of searches of whites. Hence, something else must explain it, e.g. racism.

  3. Pingback: Racism (26): Racism in Criminal Justice | P.a.p.-Blog, Human Rights Etc.

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