Today the ACLU of Southern California announced a a statewide campaign to publicize its . Driving While Black or Brown. hotline, 1-877-DWB-STOP (1-877-392-7867) and urged support for SB 78, legislation that would track race-based stops by California's law enforcement officers. (The Spanish language hotline is 1-877-PARALOS, 1-877-272-2567.)
Since October 1998, the hotline has received nearly 1000 calls from people reporting their stories of race-based police traffic stops. The ACLU has compiled these experiences in support of SB 78, which is to be heard on April 20 by the Senate Public Safety Committee, and to educate the public about racial profiling in routine traffic stops.
"Almost every African American and Latino has a story to tell, either their own or a friend's, about being inexplicably stopped by police for no other reason than the color of their skin." said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California. "It is time to learn the facts so we can begin to address what most of us believe to be true: too many police officers are treating people of color as suspects and not as individuals."
"The important work of the ACLU hotline and the legislation we are supporting today must be used to bring an end to this widespread practice," said State Senator Kevin Murray (D-Culver City) the author of SB 78. "I am confidant that this important legislation is the first step in ending this all-too-routine form of harassment and discrimination."
SB 78 will mandate that data on race and traffic stops be collected by police and reported by the Department of Justice. The data will only be used for research and statistical purposes. Last year, then-Governor Wilson vetoed AB 1264, Murray's first attempt to require data collection on racial profiling.
Christopher Darden, a former Deputy District Attorney and now a Law Professor at Southwestern University spoke of being stopped on countless occasions since the age of 16. "After each of these stops I would ask myself, 'Why? Why was I stopped?' After each of these stops I reflected on the speed and manner in which I drove my vehicle . 'Was I speeding? No. Was I following too closely the vehicle in front of me? No. An unsafe lane chance, perhaps? No. Couldn't be.' Had that been the case, the officer would surely have written me a ticket. Most often, there was no 'good' reason for stopping me. Only the wrong reason. I was the wrong color."
Ramona Ripston said experiences like Darden's proved the need for SB 78. "Certainly the problem is pervasive enough and merits study. I don't understand the objection to trying to collect data, which will either validate the complaints or vindicate the police. We need to use the data to promote police practices that furthers confidence in the police force and the justice system."
On California highways and streets, English and Spanish billboards will be posted. The English language billboard, created pro bono by Carol H. Williams Advertising, features three young African American men with the quote, "If I had a dollar for every time I was pulled over by the police..." It is already up in 32 locations in the East Bay and San Francisco. The billboard geared to Spanish-speakers, states "@%&! Otra vez me paro la policia por ser Latino," (Once again, the police stopped me for being Latino.) The San Francisco based HeadQuarters advertising agency created it pro bono.
Here in Southern California, radio ads have already begun airing. In the English-language version, two men are driving in a car and the police are following them.
First man: Everywhere I go, they're there. I'm tellin' you.
Second man: Alright be cool. Hold on... Wh are we scared? We didn't do anything wrong.
First man: Yeah. (pause) So why are they pulling us over?
Announcer: The sight of a police car shouldn't scare you. Driving while black or brown isn't against the law. But police officers stopping drivers because of the color of their skin is.
In one case, it was found that minorities made up 16% of drivers, but were 74% of those stopped and searched. Enough. Call the ACLU hotline and tell us your story at 1-877-DWB-STOP. Together we have the power to end discrimination by the police. Call 1-877-DWB-STOP and let's arrest the racism.