Buffalo Lawsuit Charges Racial Discrimination at Traffic Stops

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Photo by Laurel F via Flickr

A federal class action lawsuit charges that the Buffalo, N.Y., police department ‘s traffic enforcement is racially biased, The Appeal reports. Civil rights groups filed the suit on behalf of the advocacy group Black Love Resists in the Rust after a 2012 “Strike Force” unit established traffic checkpoints in high-crime areas in Buffalo and had adverse affects on minorities. These checkpoints were disproportionately placed in Black and Latinx communities, constituting more than 90 percent of the locations. The unit has received criticism from community members and groups since its origin, with Buffalo’s Black Lives Matter chapter filing a report asking the Attorney General to investigate the unit’s wrongdoings. The police department said it would end the “Strike Force” unit this past February, but it made no indication of ending the checkpoints. Following the announcement, Buffalo spokesperson Michael J. DeGeorge told the Buffalo News “any allegation of discrimination is completely false.”

But traffic stops have a history of  discrimination, according to Frank Baumgartner, a professor and co-author of Suspect Citizens: What 20 Million Traffic Stops Tell Us About Policing and Race. Racial profiling has become more prevalent since the 1960s and 1970s, according to Baumgartner, due to a shift from reactive policing to preventive policing. “The magic of this system is that white middle-class people were unaware that the police were using visual cues towards young men of color and treating them in such a different manner,” Baumgartner said in a recent Q&A with  The Crime Report. “If you’re black or brown, you’re a suspect citizen right from the beginning.” Because Whren v. United States allows for anyone breaking the law to be investigated, police have more freedom to choose what types of people they investigate on the road, where infractions like speeding are common.

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