Research showed the first 45 words spoken by a police officer during a traffic stop involving a Black driver stipulate how the interaction will go.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reviewed 577 police body cam footage of traffic stops involving Black drivers, according to NPR. They found that ones that start with an officer commanding the driver are three times more likely to result in a search, handcuffing or arrest.
Examples of officer commands are “Turn off the car” or “Keep your hands on the wheel.”
Of the 577 routine traffic stops with Black drivers, 81 resulted in a search, handcuffing or arrest. Researchers noticed that these outcomes were less likely whenever an officer initially provided a reason for the stop.
“The first 45 words, which is less than 30 seconds on average, spoken by a law enforcement officer during a car stop to a Black driver can be quite telling about how the stop will end,” Eugenia Rho, a Virginia Tech researcher, said.
Furthermore, the study found that Black men can predict when a traffic stop will escalate from the officer starting the interaction with a command without reason.
Researchers only examined routine traffic stop footage for the study, nothing more serious, to study how an ordinary 11-95 (code for a routine traffic stop) could lead to a Black person’s arrest or an unnecessary vehicle search.
Although the specific city where the stops happened wasn’t revealed, researchers claimed they occurred in “a racially diverse, medium-sized U.S. city.”
Around 200 officers were involved in the stops (race wasn’t identified), and footage showed the officers starting the interaction with commands contributed to the escalation, not the Black drivers.
“The drivers are just answering the officers’ questions and explaining what’s going on. They’re cooperative,” Jennifer Eberhardt, a social psychologist at Stanford University, said.
Regarding the claim that Black men can sense when traffic stops will escalate, researchers tested this by having 188 Black men listen to audio records of the initial moments of car stops.
While none of the incidents studied involved police using force, the men who listened to the audio feared the incidents would lead to an officer using force because of how the officers’ commands sounded.
“In this country, we know much more about fearing Black people than the fears of Black people,” Eberhardt explained. “Many Black people fear the police, even in routine car stops. That fear is a fear that could be stoked or set at ease with the first words that an officer speaks.”
Researchers noted the George Floyd incident video. Before his death, Floyd asked for a reason for the stop, apologized to officers and followed orders, yet the police showed no respect and only threw out commands without explaining why they stopped him.
The whole purpose of the study was to show Black drivers are more likely to get pulled over by police than white drivers. Furthermore, Black drivers are more likely to have escalated encounters with police because the officers are more disrespectful toward Blacks than whites.
In 2017, PNAS conducted a study showing racial disparities in how officers interact with drivers. The study proved that officers were more formal, friendly, impartial, polite and respectful to white drivers than to Black drivers during traffic stops.
For example, cops are more likely to use positive words, formal titles and apologies for white drivers, while Black drivers are more likely to encounter informal titles (“Hey, man…”), negative words and the “Hands on the wheel” demand.
Nonetheless, cops are hostile toward Blacks because of their biases, leading to Black kings’ deaths: Daunte Wright, Jayland Walker, Tyre Nichols, the list is endless.
This study proves that cops need to change how they interact with people of color during traffic stops and treat them the same as white drivers. However, that won’t happen anytime soon because PNAS recently did a study where white people, especially men and conservatives, admitted seeing whites as more human than people of color.