Fundamentally, I’m a begrudging optimist. Pessimism just seems counterproductive so, no matter how awful things look, I always hold out hope that perhaps they can be better. As protests for police accountability have consistently occurred for well over a month across the county, I’ve hoped that the result would be some kind of tangible change. In Berkeley, Calif., legislators will vote on a proposal that will remove police from traffic stops in an effort to reduce racial profiling.
It’s a baby step but hey, it’s a start.
According to CNN, the Berkeley City council will vote this week on “BerkDOT: Reimagining Transportation for a Racially Just Future,” a proposal that would shift the enforcement of traffic stops away from the police and to the Department of Transportation. The policy was crafted in the wake of the aforementioned protests. Councilmembers specifically cited the names of Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, and Maurice Gordon in a letter to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín stressing the importance of the proposal. Castile and Gordon were both Black men who were killed by police during a traffic stop and Bland was found dead in a jail cell after being arrested during a traffic stop.
They suggested the city follow the example set by nearby Oakland, which created a separate Department of Transportation to reduce the likelihood of racially motivated traffic stops.
“Berkeley can lead the nation in refocusing its traffic enforcement efforts on equitable enforcement, focusing on a cooperative compliance model rather than a punitive model,” councilmembers wrote. “A Department of Transportation in the City of Berkeley could shift traffic enforcement, parking enforcement, crossing guards, and collision response & reporting away from police officers — reducing the need for police interaction with civilians — and ensure a racial justice lens in the way we approach transportation policies, programs and Infrastructure.”
While some council members expressed concerns about where the money would come from to fund such an endeavor, community organizer Darrell Owens believes that cuts to the police budget could do the trick. “A minor traffic violation should not have resulted in the murder of a black or brown body, but at the same time we can also re-examine the nature of punitive law enforcement and broken-windows policing that makes traffic enforcement so deadly to begin with,” Owens told CNN.
Traffic stops make up the majority of the public’s interaction with the police. A report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that Black people are 5.2 percent more likely to experience threats of use of force than white people. Data from Stanford’s Open Policing Project shows that Black people are more likely to be pulled over by the police in general. In San Francisco, data shows that 32 out of 100 Black people were pulled over by police. Comparatively, the same data shows that only 9 out of 100 white people were pulled over by police.