Racial Disparity in Traffic Stops in Missouri Has Gotten Worse Since Ferguson

Racial Disparity in Traffic Stops in Missouri Has Gotten Worse Since Ferguson August 8, 2019

They passed some reforms in Missouri after the situation in Ferguson to address the problem of traffic stops by police (even though Ferguson didn’t have anything to do with a traffic stop), but it’s done nothing to address the racial disparities in those stop we see everywhere. There are fewer stops, but the disparity has gotten worse.

After a police officer killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown five years ago this month in Ferguson, Mo., protests there rocked the nation, leading to a public outcry over race and policing. People were outraged to learn that municipalities throughout St. Louis County had been issuing traffic tickets to finance city services — and jailing drivers who could not afford to pay — with black residents bearing the brunt of those policies.

Five years later, black drivers continue to be stopped at much higher rates than white drivers, a disparity that has actually grown in Ferguson despite changes — including a new state law — that have greatly reduced the number of traffic tickets, fines and arrest warrants issued.

Statewide, black motorists were nearly twice as likely as other motorists to be stopped, based on their share of the driving-age population, according to the Missouri attorney general’s annual report on traffic stops. White drivers were stopped 6 percent less than would be expected. In Ferguson, the disparity in traffic stops of black drivers has increased by five percentage points since 2013, while it has dropped by 11 percentage points for white drivers.

We see this pattern everywhere we look, black and Latino drivers are far more likely to be pulled over than white drivers. And when they are pulled over, they’re far more likely to have their car searched. And yet other pattern we see is that white drivers are actually more likely, when their cars are searched, to be found with illegal contraband. Just more evidence of the deep-seated racism in our criminal justice system.

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