Race, Ethnicity, and Policing: New and Essential Readings

By Stephen K. Rice; Michael D. White Roberts | Go to book overview

Chapter 11

Driving While Black
Bias Processes and Racial Disparity in Police Stops

Patricia Warren, Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, William R. Smith, Matthew Zingraff, and Marcinda Mason

Minority citizens have long suspected that their risk of a traffic stop is not proportionate to either their driving infractions or presence on our nation's roads and highways (ACLU, 1999; Weitzer and Tuch, 2002). A national survey suggests that this belief is shared by a majority of white citizens as well (Newport, 1999). Indeed, some scholars have argued that this practice is so pervasive that it should be referred to as the crime of “Driving While Black” (Gates, 1995). Media accounts (see Adams, 2000; Antonelli, 1996; Bell, 1992; Goldberg, 1999), racial profiling litigation in New Jersey and Maryland (see Lamberth, 1996), and the interim report on racial profiling completed by the New Jersey Attorney General (Verniero and Zoubek, 1999), as well as some early empirical research (Browning et al., 1994; Norris et al., 1992), all suggest that the targeting of minority motorists is quite real, at least in some police jurisdictions. Although these studies identify levels of disparity in stop and poststop outcomes, they are mostly at aggregate levels and fail to conceptualize the mechanisms, either racially biased or not, that may produce the observed race differences in stops (see the discussion in Engel, Calnon, and Bernard, 2002).

Recent research, with greater attention to and sophistication in design and measurement, generally provides evidence in support of differential enforcement of traffic laws by race (see Gaines, 2002; Lundman and Kaufman, 2003; Parker, 2001; Smith and Pettrocelli, 2001). Of these studies Lundman and Kaufman (2003) were the first to use survey data rather than police records to produce estimates of race-ethnic disparity in police vehicle stops.

Understanding the extent to which race is an important factor in criminal justice outcomes has been an issue in criminal justice research for the last 30 years. Although research has demonstrated that minority citizens are policed, searched, and arrested at much higher rates than their white counterparts, much of this research has failed to theoretically identify the reasons for the disparity. Engel and Calnon (2004) maintain that the lack of theoretical development has inhibited this research

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