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In a 14-2 majority vote from Philadelphia’s City Council, the city approved groundbreaking legislation that will bar it’s police officers from pulling over drivers for low-level motor vehicle offenses.
The legislation is aimed at improving police-community relations without compromising on public safety, the City Council said. The bill seeks to address the tension between police and community members by removing negative interaction though minor traffic stops.
It’s aim is to address the issue of “driving while Black”, where many Black people feel the color of their skin is what leads to unwarranted attention from law enforcement.
Philadelphia seeks to repair police-community relations
Councilmember Isaiah Thomas was the bills’ sponsor.
“I am grateful to my colleagues for voting to pass my Driving Equality bills,” said Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, “but moreso, I am humbled by every person who told my office of the humiliation and trauma experienced in some of these traffic stops. To many people who look like me, a traffic stop is a rite of passage – we pick out cars, we determine routes, we plan our social interactions around the fact that it is likely that we will be pulled over by police.
By removing the traffic stops that promote discrimination rather than public safety, City Council has made our streets safer and more equitable. With this vote, I breathe a sigh of relief that my sons and my friends’ children will grow up in a city where being pulled over is not a rite of passage but a measure of the safety of your driving and vehicle, regardless of the skin color of the driver.”
Blacks pulled over more than Whites but less likely to have illegal guns or drugs
In Philadelphia, Black drivers accounted for 72% of those stopped for vehicle code violations by police officers during the one-year period ending in September 2019 – despite making up only 43% of the city’s population, according to Thomas’ office. When those stops result in searches, police find illegal drugs or guns less than 1% of the time, with Black drivers 34% less likely than White drivers to be caught with illegal items, the councilmember’s office said.
Following its passage, the bill has been sent to Mayor Kenny, who is expected to sign the bill into law any day. The Philadelphia Police Department will have 120 days after the bill is signed into law for training and education before implementation.
The Philadelphia City Council also passed councilmember Thomas’ data companion bill, which mandates a public, searchable database of traffic stops (driver and officer information, reason for conducting traffic stop as well as demographic and geographic information).
Data was a main component in illustrating the problem and will be a major factor in analyzing the success or need for alterations to the Driving Equality Bill.