House Panel Approves Traffic Stops Bill

March 1, 2000 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded the House Judiciary Committee’s unanimous vote in favor of legislation that would begin to address the national epidemic of racially motivated traffic stops.

By a unanimous voice vote — and without adopting any weakening amendments — the Committee approved the “Traffic Stops Statistics Act” introduced by Rep. John Conyers, D-MI. The legislation would encourage police departments to keep detailed records of traffic stops, including the race and ethnicity of the person stopped.

“As today’s vote demonstrated, this bill should no longer be considered controversial — dozens of police agencies across the country have already voluntarily agreed to collect traffic stops data,” said Rachel King, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Congress must catch up to the 81 percent of the American public who told a recent Gallup poll that police should not use racial profiling.”

Under the proposed bill, the Justice Department would be charged with collecting the data kept by police departments and determining the full scope of this problem nationwide. ACLU offices around the country have dealt with complaints from African American men who have been stopped by the police for no other reason than the alleged traffic offense derisively referred to as “Driving While Black.”

In Maryland, for example, the ACLU is engaged in a long-running fight with the State Police Department over traffic stops on I-95. A study of police stops on one strip of this major interstate found that 73 percent of the cars stopped and searched were driven by African-Americans while they made up approximately 15 percent of those violating traffic laws.

“While anecdotal evidence abounds, there has been no systematic effort to track this trend from a federal level,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington National Office.

“We’re optimistic that if Congress approves this modest bill, the result will be a serious documentation of the pattern of discrimination on our nation’s roadways. “With this evidence,” Murphy concluded, “federal, state and local officials will be forced to take a hard look at their practices, and it will hopefully lead communities to address this problem of discrimination.”

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