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EDITORIAL: Keep up the reporting on cops who hassle for ‘driving while black’

A bill pending in the Illinois Legislature calls for continuing the practice of gathering data related to "consent searches" of vehicles by the police. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Here’s a hard fact:

Illinois State Police are more likely to search the cars of black and Latino drivers, compared to the cars of white drivers, for no good reason.

EDITORIAL

We know this because the state keeps a running count. Each year since 2004, the Department of Transportation has collected data on how many searches state cops conduct with the driver’s consent, who those drivers are — by gender and race — and what contraband, such as illegal guns and drugs, is found and confiscated.

Curiously, the annual report based on this data always shows that while blacks and Latinos drivers are more likely to be stopped, white drivers are more likely to have contraband.

We’d say that’s pretty important information. If the State Police are targeting minority drivers for no valid reason, the public should be made aware of that, and the police should cut it out.

Now, though, there is a move in Springfield to kill the annual report. A law that requires the collecting of data for the report sunsets this year, and a bill to keep the annual count going — and to make it permanent — has shaky support in the state House and Senate.

Law enforcement officials in general oppose the data collecting. They insist that motorists are no longer being racially profiled to any significant degree.

This, unfortunately, is untrue. Statewide in 2016 — the last full year for which the data has been analyzed — nearly all police departments in Illinois, including the State Police, searched black and Latino motorists at higher rates than white motorists. And, just as it was 12 years before, the cops nonetheless found illegal guns and drugs at a higher rate when they searched white motorists.

Consent searches should be banned. If an officer has no obvious grounds for searching a vehicle — such as, say, a big plume of pot smoke — he or she should not be allowed to ask the driver for permission to conduct a search anyway. Most drivers are loath to say no — who wants to annoy a cop? — and 14 years of promised police reforms have not ended the racial disparities.

In the meantime, the Legislature should order the Department of Transportation to keep collecting that data.

The reporting should end when the racism ends.

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