Revisiting Pullover Prevention 2020
As Our Spring Pullover Prevention Clinic Approaches, We Reflect on Interviews From 2020
Written by Colleen Badgero, Livonia resident
When the Livonia Police Department began releasing traffic stop data for the first 6 months of 2020, the racial disparities were loud and clear. The data were shared on the LPD website as part of the P.A.C.T. (Police And Community Together) initiative, a bone thrown in response to ardent calls for police transparency and accountability from the general public during that time of racial reckoning, and from Livonia Citizens Caring About Black Lives (LCCABL) in particular.
The 2020 P.A.C.T. data revealed that:
Black drivers were 90% more likely to receive a violation for Defective/Missing/Required Equipment.
Black drivers were 60% more likely to receive a violation for Defective/No Tail Light/No Brake Lights.
Black drivers were 76% more likely to receive a violation for White Lights to Rear.
Additionally, in the years 2020 and 2021, 34% of all citations were given to black people (who make up 4.1% of the population in Livonia according to the 2020 census). Click here for PACT site.
LCCABL Helps to Protect and Serve Vulnerable Drivers
Livonia Citizens Caring About Black Lives galvanized as an online community in 2020 in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the loss of countless other Black lives amidst the double pandemic they experienced. As the primary community group advocating for racial evolution in Livonia, they have led efforts to address the police department’s reputation for persistently practicing racial profiling while making traffic stops, among many other efforts to reduce the effects of bias and racism in public safety.
With defective lights and equipment being such widely cited offenses for Black drivers in Livonia and an obvious example of racial disparities in law enforcement, LCCABL began offering to repair and replace vehicle lights, free of charge, via clinics offered two times per year as a form of active engagement in anti-racism work.
The intent is to PROTECT vulnerable drivers from traffic stops and citations that put them at greater risk for harm and hardship and SERVE by providing support with the necessary repairs to keep drivers safe on the roads. LPD has been invited to participate in the clinics but has not yet responded or attended.
The 2020 Pullover Prevention Clinic
The inaugural Pullover Prevention clinic was held in October 2020 on a bright, brisk autumn day that paired perfectly with the sunny disposition of the volunteers and the 25 happy “customers” who came through for assistance with their vehicles.
The operation was truly a team effort with everyone enthusiastically pitching in to alert people in the area about the services being offered, flag down drivers of cars with defective equipment, provide the necessary equipment and materials, and perform the hands-on repairs.
Interviews conducted with the people who have benefitted from the event illuminated the racial and social issues they face. 23 of the 25 drivers who came for repairs were Black. The reasons cited as barriers to getting the necessary repairs to their vehicles all stemmed from a lack of resources; namely money, time, and relationships with reliable car maintenance providers. 19 of the 25 drivers were female and many reported they had no experience or training in changing lights and had no one in their household able to assist them.
A Closer Look at the Issues
Going deeper, individuals were asked to share their ideas and perspectives about how to improve relationships between police officers and people of color.
Melissa, whose lights took almost 30 minutes to repair and required nearly her whole back seat to be removed and reassembled by LCCABL volunteers in the process, felt that police training and tightening hiring practices were key factors to weed out officers who have ulterior motives in joining the force. She said “if police departments check the mindset of people before hiring them and continually address the biases of their officers, they could ensure that HELPING, SERVING, and PROTECTING people is the top priority.”
Stacey, a school teacher, highlighted the importance of showing respect in the delivery and approach of officers in order to garner the same level of respect in return from the people they encounter. She stated “Everybody wants to go home safely” and “we all have a role to play” when it comes to improving relationships with law enforcement. She also discussed the role of professionalism while on the job. As a teacher, she has experience dealing with angry, even belligerent parents and students and is required to stay professional and do her job. She feels the same should be expected from police officers; to “follow procedures, be neutral, don’t go outside the lines, just do their jobs.”
Joilette sees the system of traffic tickets as a money grab by police departments that ends up targeting people who often don’t have the money to pay the fines and penalties. She shared about a recent ticket she received (and acknowledged she deserved) for speeding 10 miles per hour over the limit. She was told by the officer that because she was so nice during the traffic stop, she could go to a website, pay half of the citation amount, and the whole ticket and associated points would be cleared from her record completely. In her eyes, this proved the financial motivation for issuing the ticket, rather than allowing her to go with a warning.
She also shared a story about her son and the challenges he faced with law enforcement over traffic tickets. He lived in Detroit, worked in Farmington, and received multiple tickets from Farmington police for a brake light that he repeatedly attempted to repair, but kept burning out. He also received a ticket during a stop for the brake light, when the officer discovered he had been driving without insurance during a period when he could not afford to pay the premium. One night while visiting a friend’s house in Waterford, he witnessed an episode of domestic abuse and called the police to report a man who was beating a woman in the house next door. When the police officers gathered his information as a witness, they discovered he had unpaid traffic tickets, took him into custody, transferred him to the Farmington Police, and held him until Joilette could come with $1,500 to pay the tickets and release him.
June had been pulled over for the broken tail light that she came to have repaired almost a year prior. As a single woman who works a full time 9-5 job with overtime, she said it was difficult for her to find a time to get to a dealership, not knowing how long the repair would take, if she would need to leave the car and find a ride, especially during the COVID pandemic. Regarding the relationship between police officers and people of color, June believes it depends on the individual officer and what their intentions are. Echoing the sentiments of Melissa, she thinks it should be determined if the officer is “for the people, no matter their color” before being hired. She also thinks it vitally important to have police officers of color on every force because the segregation that exists in our communities creates major barriers. “If you haven’t grown together, you don’t share the same understanding, upbringing, or awareness of what people are facing.” This brings her to the point that it starts with children. They know and do what their parents have taught, so to bring people together requires starting this inclusion in childhood.
A young woman, Iman, repeated the sentiment that many of the drivers shared when asked about her experiences with police officers. “You just don’t know who’s gonna pull you over, what kind of day they’ve had, what their intentions are, if they’ll be civil or dangerous.” she says. This brings up a lot of fear for her as someone who deals with baseline anxiety, whenever she interacts with police officers. She manages the fear by not saying too much and doing whatever it takes to get the confrontation over quickly. She believes that in order to repair relationships, we need to find ways to develop mutual understanding, and bring police officers and people of color together in non-confrontational contexts. She also believes that Black people need to come together in their efforts for better treatment by law enforcement because there is power in numbers.
Kevin came through the clinic to have a tail light replaced on the car he had recently purchased for his 16-year-old son. As a father of 3 teenage/young adult children, he shared that he has contemplated the issues surrounding the broken relationship between police officers and people of color extensively in an effort to train his kids how to respond to authority figures, know their rights, and protect themselves. He feels there’s a disconnect between Black people and police officers which prevents both sides from mutually understanding each other and that both parties have a role in repairing the relationship. He suggests that officers should be required to do service projects like ride-alongs with home health care providers or involvement in programs at community centers that would allow the officers to work with people, see how they live, and what challenges they face. On the flip side, he feels that the Black community needs a better understanding of how the police system operates and what officers are trained to do so that they don’t inadvertently cause problems. He also believes the narrative needs to change among Black people so that they’re not intimidated or overly fearful and they always keep God first when interacting with police.
Kevin also spoke a lot about the need for definitive reforms in police systems. For example, he believes that public service should come first and race relations training should be a top priority for departments across the board. He believes all officers need to understand the history of policing in the US, how it was formed in southern states as a slave patrol, how officers were tasked with enforcing Jim Crow segregation laws, and thus the history of enforcing unjust laws causes it to continue to carry a stigma within the Black community as an entity to be feared rather than trusted to serve and protect. This understanding would help officers recognize that you “can’t lead with a heavy hand” because that could easily create a situation that becomes dangerous for both parties.
Lastly, Kevin spoke to the need for people in predominantly white communities, like Livonia, to educate themselves on the issues stated above in order to stop looking at black people driving through your community as a threat to your safety or depreciating your property values.
Amaria, a single woman in her 20s who lives alone, actually wasn’t aware that her brake light was out until someone from the event noticed and flagged her over. Without having anyone around to help her test her lights to identify if they were all working, she likely wouldn’t have discovered the light was out until she was pulled over by police. Amaria has experienced hardship associated with traffic violations in the past. When she was a young driver, she received a ticket for rolling through a stop sign. Unfortunately, she forgot about the ticket, as it was such a small offense. No longer living at the address listed on her license, Amaria inadvertently missed the correspondence sent by the court. It wasn’t until she was pulled over for a defective light that an officer informed her she was driving with a suspended license. This honest slip-up ended up costing her $5,000 in fees and almost a year of her life struggling to find rides to work so she could earn and save the money to get her license reinstated.
Amaria talked about the stigma among her friends and family around coming to the suburbs in general, not just Livonia. She said it creates a “crabs in a barrel mentality” where people don’t want to leave Detroit for fear of facing complications with police officers in communities outside of the city. She repeated the sentiments of other drivers by stating “you never know what you’re gonna get” as a Black person interacting with a police officer, which causes her to carry a constant underlying fear because of what she sees happening over and over again across the country associated with the “bad apples in the bunch”. She feels that officers need more training in not escalating situations, as she recognizes they’re fearful too. Treating the job as a job, not a lifestyle, would also help because “they can take off their uniform and badge, but I can never take a break from being Black.”
Insights to Take With Us
The themes gathered from the stories and perspectives of the individuals who shared with us call for bringing police officers and Black community members together to develop an improved mutual understanding of each other. Reforms to the hiring and training process for officers, to ensure an understanding of racial relations and intentions to serve and protect people of all colors and backgrounds, must be a top priority. Officers also need to follow protocols as they’re outlined rather than taking advantage of their authority and/or obstructing transparency in their work.
Since lacking resources was the primary barrier to getting the necessary repairs to defective equipment on vehicles, it’s clear that a new approach to this problem is warranted. Ticketing people and bringing them into the traffic court system only further drains their already limited resources of money and time. Perhaps a way for police departments to address all of the above would be to host or participate in a Pullover Prevention clinic modeled after the one organized by LCCABL?
Pullover Prevention Spring 2022
Livonia Citizens Caring About Black Lives and Livonia Equity and Anti Racism Network are hosting the next Pullover Prevention Clinic this Sunday, May 22nd, 2022 from 11:30 am to 4:30 pm. There are opportunities to volunteer and/or offer supplies for the event to be successful. Click here to sign up and please spread the word to your community via sharing the Facebook event page which is linked here. If you’ve been looking for tangible ways to take action to dismantle racism, please do so by supporting these efforts.