Black Drivers Get Less Respect Than Whites from Police

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After reviewing transcripts of traffic stops involving 981 motorists, Stanford University researchers have come up with proof of something that many Americans have believed for a long time: Police officers tend to treat black citizens with less respect than white citizens, the Los Angeles Times reports. This is true regardless of the police officer’s own racial background, the researchers found. Nor does it matter whether the traffic stop occurs in a business district or residential neighborhood, or whether the crime rate in the area is high or low. When you boil it all down, “Officers’ language is less respectful when speaking to black community members,” says a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In any given year, more than 1 in 4 Americans who are old enough to drive has some kind of encounter with a police officer, usually as a result of a traffic stop. If these interactions go smoothly, the police build up respect within their community. If they don’t, the public’s trust in law enforcement erodes, and citizens may become less willing “to support or cooperate with the police,” the study said. The researchers, led by Rob Voigt of Stanford’s linguistics department, took advantage of the rapid spread of police body cameras. They obtained 183 hours’ worth of footage from the police department in Oakland, a city both large and racially diverse. The study focused on traffic stops involving 682 black drivers and 299 white ones.

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