Traffic stop killing of Daunte Wright reignites conversation about policing

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The killing of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in Minnesota is reigniting a conversation about police reform.

“First it is a tragedy, I mean nobody should die in those circumstances. Also, it was an avoidable tragedy,” said Frank Baumgartner, a professor of political science at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Thousands of drivers a day are pulled over for traffic violations. Baumgartner says a large percentage of stops are not designed to keep people safe and instead used as a pretext for further investigations.

“The general idea is to enforce the traffic law, keep the roads safe, but don’t use the traffic code as an excuse to go on a fishing expedition,” Baumgartner said.

Open data policing tracks the demographics of people stopped in a given jurisdiction.

Since 2002, Black drivers have consistently stayed above the overall search rate for all motorists pulled over by the Greensboro Police Department.

“Why so many people are just now discovering it is that police use their discretion to enforce those laws against some people and not others,” Baumgartner said.

A number of studies show drivers of color are disproportionately targeted. In 2019, Black drivers accounted for over half the department’s traffic stops.

“The key issue of the pretextual use of stops to have a conversation where the suspicion comes first, and the traffic becomes an excuse to start that conversation,” Baumgartner said.

He believes pretext stops have created a tremendous amount of mistrust between police and minority communities.

White drivers were about 23 percent less likely to be stopped than Black drivers by Greensboro officers two years ago, according to open data policing.

Baumgartner said while the nation works towards change it’s important to show some empathy.

“Understand that someone who doesn’t look like me might have a really different experience with police and therefore it’s not surprising that their attitude would be different,” Baumgartner said.

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