Unnecessary traffic stops by Chicago police impact daily lives of Black and Brown drivers

No matter how much I vary my routes, I am stopped by Chicago police. These stops are nothing but harassment. They make Black and Brown people late for work or school and leave us feeling like targets because of our race or ethnicity.

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A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois alleges that CPD has a policy and practice of targeting Black and Latino drivers simply for driving while Black or Brown.

A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois alleges that the Chicago Police Department has a policy and practice of targeting Black and Latino drivers simply for driving while Black or Brown.

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On a recent summer afternoon, I picked up my son from day care so we could go to a park on the South Side.

But unlike what most white parents experience while driving their kids to a fun activity, our trip was interrupted by the Chicago police.

I saw the squad car’s flashing lights in my rearview mirror. I was confused and aggravated because I didn’t break any traffic rules. I worried about being confronted by officers with my son in the back seat and thought of all the times police have shot Black motorists. Still, I pulled over.

A female officer walked over and leaned into the driver’s side window. When I asked why I had been stopped, she said I took a right turn where I wasn’t supposed to. But there were no signs prohibiting a right turn, so there was no valid reason for the traffic stop.

Before heading back to the squad car with my driver’s license, the officer demanded that I roll down the passenger window so her partner could see me and my son.

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I didn’t end up with a ticket or formal warning, just like the dozen-plus times I have been stopped by police in the last five years. But I felt humiliated and disrespected and broke down crying after the officers left, which made my son sad.

No matter how much I vary my routes, police have stopped me to question whether my registration is up to date or totell me that my car has some minor problem, like a light being out.

Just a few weeks before the traffic stop with my son, I joined a lawsuit with four other Chicago residents alleging that Chicago police intentionally target Black and Latino drivers.

The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, alleges that the police department has a policy and practice of targeting Black and Latino drivers simply for driving while Black or Brown, as well as requiring officers to satisfy traffic stop quotas and flood predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods on the South and West sides with traffic stops for alleged minor equipment and registration violations. The lawsuit also alleges this “mass traffic stop program” has an unjustified disparate effect on Black and Latino drivers.

This “mass traffic stop program” likely arises from decisions by the police department and city officials to use traffic stops supposedly as an effort to fight crime. But the lawsuit contends it doesn’t work. No contraband, including illegal guns or drugs turn up in more than 99% of traffic stops in Chicago.. These stops do not make our communities safer or more secure.

The officers simply harass drivers like me, a Black woman from the South Side. These unnecessary and ineffective traffic stops make us late for work or school. They leave me and others like me feeling like targets because of our race or ethnicity. They strain an already tense relationship between the police and our communities. They cause lasting trauma, anxiety and fear.

They also alter the quality of our lives. My son did not get to enjoy the park that day. Instead, I took him to my mother’s home because I was too upset.

Officers are meant to protect and serve, not cause fear. The police department program of mass traffic stops against Black and Latino drivers must be reined in.

Essence Jefferson, a Chicago resident, has been stopped by Chicago police more than 14 times in recent years.

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