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The Stories, the Statistics and the Law: Why 'Driving While Black' Matters

University of Minnesota Law Review, Vol. 84, No. 2, 1999

U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research

62 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2000 Last revised: 27 Mar 2009

David A. Harris

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law

Abstract

Racial profiling of drivers - often called "driving while black" - has taken an increasingly important role in the public debate on issues of race and criminal justice. It is one of the few such issues that has penetrated not only the public discourse, but the legislative process as well.

This article takes three different approaches in attempting to explain that racial profiling is important not only for its own sake, but because it is a manifestation - both a symbol and a symptom - of all of the most difficult problems that we face at the intersection of race and criminal justice. First, the stories of a number of African Americans, selected not for their egregiousness but for their typicality, are used to illustrate the personal pain, humiliation, and anguish racial profiling inflicts on individual people of color. Second, the article marshalls statistical evidence, including the author's own study of four metropolitan areas in Ohio, to show that profiling is not an exaggeration of a few isolated incidents into a social trend, but a real and measurable phenomenon. Third, the bulk of the article aims to show how racial profiling is connected to many of the different issues of race and criminal justice that are on the table today, such as stereotypes of black criminality, rational discrimination by law enforcement, and disproportionate rates of imprisonment among blacks, to name a few. The upshot of the analysis is that "driving while black" may serve as a way for many in the majority to begin to come to grips with issues of race and criminal justice in ways that they have not before.

Keywords: pretextual traffic stops, race-based traffic stops, racial profiling, discrimination, illegal search, illegal search, probable cause, reasonable suspicion, statistics

Suggested Citation

Harris, David A., The Stories, the Statistics and the Law: Why 'Driving While Black' Matters. University of Minnesota Law Review, Vol. 84, No. 2, 1999; U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=199508

David A. Harris (Contact Author)

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law ( email )

3900 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States

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