Police stops by black people, often full of fear, fear


The video seems clear: Patrick Lyoya disregarded an officer during a traffic stop, tried to run, then wrestled with the officer for his taser before the officer fatally shot him in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

For a number of Black men and women, resisting arrest during encounters with police for minor traffic delays was fatal. Experts say people’s anxiety levels have been halted and even officials involved may be high, adding to the tension.

George Floyd’s 2020 killing by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, the 2014 death of Eric Garner by strangulation by a New York City officer, and the shooting of Michael Brown by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri, that same year are among the high-profile Encounters that have proved deadly for black men.

An employee at the store called police and said Floyd allegedly tried to hand over a fake $20 bill. Police stopped Garner on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes. An officer confronted Brown and an attendant as they walked to Brown’s home from a convenience store. Brown was shot after a scuffle with the officer. All three men were unarmed.

“Because of the way the police are commonly portrayed, young people of color can feel scared when they are stopped,” said Jason Johnson, president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund. “‘Can I get a ticket? Will I be arrested?’ They may believe they are victims of abuse. Often they enter into these interactions thinking they will be the victim of brutality.”

In 2015, a white cop in Columbia, South Carolina pulled over Walter Scott, a 50-year-old black man, for a broken brake light. Video from a bystander showed the two falling to the ground after the officer hit Scott with a taser. The officer then shot Scott as he tried to run.

In Lyoya’s case, some – including his family and their high-profile lawyer, Ben Crump – have said the 26-year-old Congolese refugee was killed because he had a license plate that didn’t belong with the vehicle. While the officer stopped Lyoya because of this, Johnson said, Lyoya wasn’t killed because of it.

“That’s one of the disconnects or misunderstandings between the police and the public,” Johnson said. “If you look a little closer, that’s not what happened. (Lyoya) had a number of opportunities to comply with the officer’s instructions. This use of deadly force had nothing to do with a traffic violation, it had everything to do with (Lyoya) actively resisting arrest.”

Lyoya’s actions “set the path that ultimately ended in deadly violence,” Johnson added.

Grand Rapids Police Department Wednesday released video of the April 4 stop, including from the vehicle and the officer’s body camera, a bystander’s cell phone, and a doorbell camera. The videos show the brief foot chase and a fight while the white officer repeatedly tells Lyoya to stop. At one point, Lyoya has his hand on the officer’s stun gun and the officer yells at him to let go.

The fight ended when the officer shot Lyoya in the head while Lyoya was lying face down with the officer sitting astride him.

Scott Roberts, senior director of criminal justice and democracy campaigns at Color of Change, a national racial justice organization, said officials are often fearful of the dangers posed by stops. But that doesn’t negate that black motorists suffer when they display or express their legitimate fears at traffic stops, he said.

“If you look at policing culture, there’s just this backlash to the idea that policing is rooted in white supremacy and was a tool of white supremacy,” Roberts said. “And so there’s a kind of denial as to why black people should have this fear. You’ve already criminalized the person by making a pre-planned stop. Their assumption will be that this is just an acknowledgment of their guilt, this fear.”

Roberts added that this dynamic has increasingly prompted cities, prosecutors and police to enact policies that mitigate or stop minor violations.

Race and experience could skew how all parties interpret interactions and confrontations between black Americans and white officers, said Paul Bergman, UCLA law professor emeritus.

“Cultural narratives can lead both white and black officers to anticipate trouble if the person they’re stopping is black,” he said.

In Lyoya’s case: “Was he stopped earlier because he was black?” asked Bergmann. “If he weren’t black, would that be more of a minor infraction and would the cop think he had better things to do?”

The situation escalated when Lyoya failed to produce a driver’s license and attempted to flee. That probably raised the officer’s suspicions, Bergman said.

But Lyoya may also have believed his best option was to flee, he said.

“Maybe he’s thinking of just getting out of a threatening situation,” Bergman added. “You are legally expected to comply with lawful demands. The place to argue if you think it’s unlawful is later. We are expected to fight these arguments in court, not on the street.”

Amara Enyia, policy and research manager of the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of more than 150 black-led organizations, said the fear black drivers feel is rooted in generations of hostile relationships with the police.

When license plate stops, broken taillights, or improper lane changes lead to violent arrests or fatal encounters, departments resort to old-school solutions, such as: B. anti-bias training, which made no difference, said Enyia.

“You just have to ask yourself how many billions and billions of dollars does it take to train someone out of that kind of prejudice,” she said. “Rather than making structural changes to the entire system, you have to rely on a cop’s benevolence, goodwill, or altruism to stay alive in an otherwise routine traffic stop.”


Williams and Morrison are members of the AP’s Race and Ethnicity Team. Williams reported from West Bloomfield, Michigan. Morrison reported from New York.


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