ACLU Calls for Investigation of Apparent Falsification of Race Data in Massachusetts Traffic Stop

September 4, 2001 12:00 am

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BOSTON–Concerned that some police officers may be undermining efforts to report racial profiling, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts today said that it has asked officials in the seaside town of Wellfleet to investigate the misreporting of the race and gender of an African-American woman who was cited for speeding.

Aimee Pickett was driving her father’s Lexus in Wellfleet on May 20, 2001 when she was stopped by a Wellfleet police officer and given a citation for speeding. On the citation, the police officer recorded Ms. Pickett as a white male.

“The ACLU is challenging the misreporting of race and gender data because of our growing concern that police in some communities are trying to undermine attempts to address racial profiling by falsifying the information on the traffic citation forms,” said John Roberts, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

In response to widespread allegations by people of color concerning the practice of racial profiling by police officers (the practice of stopping people and interrogating them based on their skin color rather than on any violation of the law), a new state statute was enacted a year ago to provide for the gathering of race and gender data on the state traffic citation form.

“”False recording skews the data and undermines the purpose of the statute, which is to get an accurate representation of the race and gender of those being stopped by police officers on Massachusetts’ streets and highways,”” Roberts said.

Similar problems occurred in New Jersey, Roberts noted, where an audit of citations revealed that many state troopers were falsifying the data by deliberately misreporting the race of drivers of color, recording them as white when they clearly were not.

According to Ms. Pickett’s description of the incident, she was driving with the flow of traffic on Route 6 in Wellfleet heading toward Eastham when a Wellfleet police officer made a U-turn from the opposite side of Route 6 and followed her a short distance before pulling her over.

When he approached the car, his first question was, “Is this your car?” People of color who drive late model or luxury cars are often asked that question, Roberts said, the inference being that they could not have legitimate access to such an expensive car. The officer then informed Pickett that she was speeding and issued the citation, inaccurately recording that she was a white male.

A clerk of the Orleans District Court dismissed Ms. Pickett’s citation on August 21, 2001 following her report of the incident.

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