'Black Nonsense': Pennsylvania State Police Says Its Officers Did Not Racially Profile Black Driver

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Pennsylvania State Police, investigating one of their own for allegations of racial bias, have (surprise!) cleared themselves of any wrongdoing.

The incident in question took place on July 8, when two white state troopers pulled over Rodney Gillespie’s car after he briefly crossed over the center lines of a narrow, winding two-lane road.

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After state police turned on their lights, Gillespie drove one more minute down the road before turning into the driveway of his home. The reason, Gillespie told police at the time, and to BuzzFeed News later, was because he feared what pulling over on an unlit road with no passersby would beget.

“I knew my house was lit with lights,” Gillespie told BuzzFeed News last week. “What other place do you think is safer than your house?”

Dashcam footage of the event released by police last Friday shows trooper Christopher S. Johnson, a recent police academy grad, barking at Gillespie to get out of the car. He questioned the 52-year-old pharmaceutical executive about why he hadn’t pulled over sooner.

“This is a small street, I didn’t want to get killed,” he responds. When Johnson says the officers’ hearts were racing because Gillespie had continued driving, he continues, “you all kill black people, I didn’t want to get killed.”

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“You want to know how to get hurt? Not stopping for police. You’re running,” Johnson replies. When Gillespie explains that he was “just scared,” Johnson takes offense.

“Listen, one of my best friends, that’s a trooper that works with me, is black. I don’t want to hear that black nonsense,” the trooper says.

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The two officers end up handcuffing Gillespie for several minutes before giving him a traffic ticket.

While Pennsylvania State Police found troopers “could have more effectively deescalated the situation” once Gillespie had pulled over, the agency found the complaint of bias-based profiling “was not sustained,” according to a statement released last Friday. State police also pointed out that the officers’ microphones were turned off at several points during the incident—a violation of police protocol.

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Watching video of the incident, Gillespie pointed out to BuzzFeed News two noteworthy statements officers made that were not picked up by their microphones:

The first was that police said they followed him when he passed their car because of recent break-ins. The second was that officers asked him who his “girlfriends” were, referring to his wife Angela and his 17-year-old daughter Jaida, who was sleeping in the back seat (his elder daughter Jasmyn, 22, was not in the car).

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“As an African-American, as a man, trying to take care of his family, I felt like there was a little bit of ... [police officers] trying to egg me on, emasculating me, right in front of my family,” Gillespie said. In a separate interview with ABC following the agency’s decision, Gillespie said he plans on suing the state police to force changes through.

“This has never been about me. It’s about making sure it doesn’t happen to others,” Gillespie said.

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A recent Philadelphia Inquirer investigation found Pennsylvania state police officers—92 percent of whom are white—had received 32 complains of racial bias since 2016. The department has cleared every single officer in that time of any wrongdoing.

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About the author

Anne Branigin

Staff writer, The Root. Sometimes I blog slow, sometimes I blog quick. Do you have this in coconut?