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May 25 , 2010

Pulled Over

How Police Stops Define Race and Citizenship


In sheer numbers, no form of government control comes close to the police stop. Each year, twelve percent of drivers in the United States are stopped by the police, and the figure is almost double among racial minorities. Police stops are among the most recognizable and frequently criticized incidences of racial profiling, but, while numerous studies have shown that minorities are pulled over at higher rates, none have examined how police stops have come to be both encouraged and institutionalized.

Pulled Over deftly traces the strange history of the investigatory police stop, from its discredited beginning as “aggressive patrolling” to its current status as accepted institutional practice. Drawing on the richest study of police stops to date, the authors show that who is stopped and how they are treated convey powerful messages about citizenship and racial disparity in the United States. For African Americans, for instance, the experience of investigatory stops erodes the perceived legitimacy of police stops and of the police generally, leading to decreased trust in the police and less willingness to solicit police assistance or to self-censor in terms of clothing or where they drive. This holds true even when police are courteous and respectful throughout the encounters and follow seemingly colorblind institutional protocols. With a growing push in recent years to use local police in immigration efforts, Hispanics stand poised to share African Americans’ long experience of investigative stops.
In a country that celebrates democracy and racial equality, investigatory stops have a profound and deleterious effect on African American and other minority communities that merits serious reconsideration. Pulled Over offers practical recommendations on how reforms can protect the rights of citizens and still effectively combat crime.
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