Over the past couple years, the news has been full of stories demonstrating the problem of racial profiling across the United States. It is difficult to find a plausible alternative explanation as to why so many unarmed African-American men are killed during encounters with white police officers.
There are also plenty of examples showing that African Americans (both men and women) are likely to be pulled over and cited or arrested for minor traffic infractions – or even behavior which is perfectly legal. A recent case from here in the Midwest is getting a lot of attention because the encounter was filmed on a cellphone camera and later put online.
A young black man and his brother were driving from their home state of Michigan to Ohio to attend a birthday party. When they were pulled over near their destination, they began recording the interaction. The officer approached the vehicle and said he had stopped the man for failing to engage his turn signal 100 feet prior to his turn (he had used the turn signal, however).
Most reasonable people would say that this is a dubious reason to pull someone over. The suspect then told the officer that he was aware that the officer had been trailing him for about two miles, looking for “a reason to pull me over.” When pressed about why the stop happened, the officer said: “Because you made direct eye contact with me and held onto it when I was passing you… I’m not going to argue about it anymore.”
The suspect was given a warning. Both he and the officer remained calm during the encounter. But the officer’s stated reason for initiating the traffic stop is simply unacceptable. Making eye contact is certainly not illegal. It’s not even disrespectful.
There were ultimately no criminal consequences related to this encounter, but that’s less important than the fact that it even occurred. When police officers look for illegal behavior, they can usually find it eventually. But this places the suspect ahead of the alleged infraction. In other words, the person is a suspect before there is any reason for suspicion.
Racial profiling is a significant problem here in Wisconsin and across the country. If you were pulled over and cited/arrested and believe that racial profiling may have been a factor, please discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.