House bill

Bill would overturn law limiting minor traffic stops

By Josephine Walker

A Senate committee could debate a bill that would reverse a police law aimed at reducing racial profiling.

The 2020 General Assembly passed a party-oriented law to end dummy policing or the practice of stopping someone for a minor traffic violation. These traffic stops are made for broken taillights, tinted windows or objects hanging from the rear view mirror. The law also prohibits police from searching a vehicle because of the smell of marijuana.

These stops often lead officers to conduct investigations unrelated to the reason for the stop, according to criminal justice reform group Justice Forward Virginia.

Of the. Ronnie Campbell, R-Rockbridge, presented House Bill 79. He told a House committee meeting that the bill would make Virginians safer. For example, the bill would prevent people from driving with broken taillights, which can cause accidents. He also said the legislation could lead to police catching fugitives, including serial killers. He listed a few high-profile killers who have been apprehended over the years — outside of Virginia — during stops for minor traffic violations.

“You never really know who you’re stopping or what you’re going to get,” Campbell said.

Breanne Armbrust is the Executive Director of the Neighborhood Resource Center of Greater Fulton, a non-profit organization that seeks to provide educational, cultural and nutritional benefits to the East End of Richmond.

Armbrust said the data does not show that serial killers are arrested. However, the mock police had a disproportionate impact on residents of the Fulton neighborhood of Richmond, she said.

“These types of shutdowns lead to more engagement with law enforcement, which makes it difficult for everyone involved,” Armbrust said.

Blacks represented 31% of drivers arrested for minor traffic violations from July 2020 to December 2021, according to Data collected through the Community Policing Act. Black people over the age of 18 make up 18% of Virginia’s population over the age of 18, according to census databut not the whole population.

Brad Haywood, executive director of the criminal justice reform group Justice Forward, wondered how the assumption is that black people are worse drivers than white people.

“How is the argument really? It’s just nonsense,” Haywood said.

North Carolina resident Sipiwe West was arrested in the late 1990s. She was driving with her family through Virginia on Interstate 85 to attend a funeral.

The reason for the traffic stoppage was an air freshener hanging in her rearview mirror, she said. The family was asked out of the vehicle and questioned about its intention and destination, according to West.

“If you drive more than one black person in a car, you’re probably going to get pulled over, especially if you’re young,” said West, who was in his twenties at the time. She said it was terrible to be profiled for being black.

“It’s not like everyone you know…you get pulled over and it’s like ‘OK, I was speeding, let me get a ticket or something,'” he said. said West. “It’s, ‘Oh, my God. I’m going to get shot. What will perhaps come out of this situation? »

West said the highway she was traveling on was frequently used to transfer drugs. She was alarmed but not surprised that the officers had put her family through this – and on top of an already difficult time in their lives.

Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of the social equity group Marijuana Justice, said the dummy policing around the alleged drug presence is racist.

“Police are legally allowed to target us based on the color of our skin,” Higgs Wise said. “We have to keep going back to the data and what we know about history, and why these laws were established in the first place.”

Farnad Darnell is an HIV clinic technician who worked in Northern Virginia and lived in Maryland. Darnell said he has been stopped several times for traffic violations.

“Since then, I don’t go to Virginia anymore except to see my sister who is in the Newport News area,” Darnell said. “I might go there a few times a year at most, for those same reasons now, because I didn’t want to get arrested.”

Darnell said he didn’t feel less safe on the road due to his past experiences with the police, but rather more aware of his driving. He goes out of his way to plan trips that allow him to avoid areas with excessive policing.

Minor traffic stops should be brought back as primary offenses because law enforcement said their “hands were tied”, Campbell said.

The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, President Pro Tempore of the Senate, said on Twitter that “we will look closely at what comes from the House and make sure it does not diminish our recent progress”.

Lucas, with Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, sponsored the same bills in 2020 which put an end to minor traffic violations. Democratic lawmakers faced Republican opposition at the time, but won the majority of votes to push the bills through each chamber.

The bills passed as part of a legislative agenda focused on criminal justice and police reform following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Republicans campaigned last year on the message that they support law enforcement and that Democrats had been soft on crime.