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CONCLUSION

David A. Harris

THE STORIES, THE STATISTICS, AND THE LAW:
WHY "DRIVING WHILE BLACK" MATTERS
84 Minnesota Law Review 265-326 (1999)
(Permission Requested, citations omitted)


Everyone wants criminals caught. Few feel this with more urgency than African-Americans, who are so often the victims of crime. But we must choose our methods carefully. As a country, we must strive to avoid police practices that impose high costs on law abiding citizens, and that skew those costs heavily on the basis of race.

African-Americans clearly feel aggrieved by pretextual traffic stops. It is virtually impossible to find black people who do not feel that they have experienced racial profiling. The statistics presented here show that this is more than just the retelling of stories based on isolated instances of police behavior. Rather, the patterns in the data are strong, even when the data are not ideal. These experiences have a deep psychological and emotional impact on the individuals involved, and they also have a significant connection to many of the most basic problems in criminal justice and race.

Surely a solution will not be easy to achieve. There are, after all, many among the law enforcement community and its supporters who disfavor even the most basic first steps toward an understanding of the problem through the collection of comprehensive, accurate data. Yet it is with these same people that the best hope for any solution rests. Changes in law enforcement policies, training, and supervision, and a determination from the top to end race-based policing are where the effort to come to grips with this problem will ultimately succeed or fail. And lest we lose hope, the first effort to legislate the collection of data--Rep. Conyers' H.R. 118--has spawned a dozen imitators on the state level.

The bottom line is that we--every citizen and every police officer--must realize that "driving while black" is a problem not just for African-Americans, but for every American who believes in basic fairness. When blacks feel like criminals whenever they do something as common as driving a car, and when they feel so distrustful of the police that they will not believe officers testifying in court, things have come to a dangerous point. "Driving while black" destroys the ideal that holds us together as a nation: equal justice under law. And when that goes, we are all in trouble.


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