At first blush, City Councilman Isaiah Thomas’ bill to end traffic stops for minor traffic violations seems like another half-assed idea to help the irresponsible avoid the consequences of their actions.
As you may know, one of my operating systems is this: Obey The Law.
You would be surprised about how little trouble most people would have if only they would Obey The Law.
A common impulse on the Left is reducing incarceration by watering down the law. And reducing sentencing. And avoiding bail. These ideas have had mixed results.
At first glance, Councilman Thomas’ bill seems to be one like those I just described, but appearances can be deceiving and appearances is one motive, but just one, behind his bill.
I am talking about the appearance of the driver.
Ever hear of “driving while Black?” Every Black person I know has, and most believe they were pulled over for that reason and nothing more. And not just once.
That’s not supposed to happen in America, but it does.
Says who? Among others, the freshman Councilman does, but he backs his “Driving Equality” bill with stats and facts, which I will present in a moment.
In brief, the bill requires that instead of pulling drivers over for minor Motor Vehicle Code violations, a warning or ticket would be mailed to the motorist.
“Humph,” roared one of talk radio’s mouthpieces, “they’re going to ignore that ticket.”
My answer is that they will ignore the one handed to them also, if they care to.
But, but, but, the objection goes, the ticket goes to the car owner, who might not have been the driver.
True, that’s why mailed tickets — such as from speeding and red-light cameras — carry fines but not points on the driver’s license.
Thomas’ bill would not prevent police from writing tickets or stopping drivers who commit serious violations. It would reduce police/civilian interactions, which is probably a good thing in current times.
But does it conform to state law? “State law dictates the code itself, but we believe that Council has the jurisdiction to enforce the code itself if enacted,” say Max Weisman, Thomas’ communications director. He adds that 90% of stops do not even result in a ticket.
According to stats offered by Thomas, 97% of all vehicle stops between October 2018 and September 2019 in Philadelphia were for Motor Code Violations, not for criminal investigations. More than 70% of motorists stopped for MCVs were Black, while only 43% of Philadelphians are Black. You can draw your own conclusions, but unequal enforcement would have to be one of them.
Rightly or wrongly, Black people are often traumatized during stops, some fearing for their lives, says Thomas.
These charts, assembled by the Defender Association of Philadelphia, bring it home.
This one shows the racial distribution of people stopped. This is one blue wave you don’t want to be part of.
This chart shows the reasons police gave for the car stop.
This chart shows how little contraband or weapons are seized during a car stop.
Wow, that’s nothing.
What about a driver getting a wrong ticket, let’s say the officer writes down the wrong license number?
The car owner can fight the ticket exactly as any other — by mail, email, or in person.
So the bill doesn’t diminish enforcement, it simply takes the physical confrontation out of it.
It may not be perfect, but it seems like it’s worth a shot.