DUI, Race and the Chicago Suburbs

There has been a viral facebook post by Brian Crooks about growing up black in suburban Naperville.  So far, it has garnered over 25,000 shares.  Please read it.

I wanted to excerpt part of it about the numerous DUI and other traffic investigatory stops that he endured, because the key to solving our current policing crisis is through listening and understanding:

I got pulled over a lot in high school. Like, a lot a lot. By this point, I was no longer driving the Dodge. I had a Mazda of my own. It was flashy and loud, but this was 2002 and everybody with a Japanese car was doing a Vin Diesel impression, so it’s not like mine stood out that much more than anyone else’s. I spent a ton of money on my car and was especially aware of its appearance. You can understand, then, why it was weird that I was routinely pulled over for a busted taillight. After all, that’s the kind of thing I would’ve noticed and gotten fixed, especially if that taillight tended to burn out once a week or so. My parents had told me how to act when pulled over by the police, so of course I was all “Yes sir, no sir” every time it happened. That didn’t stop them from asking me to step out of the car so they could pat me down or search for drugs, though. I didn’t have a drop of alcohol until I was 21, but by that point I was an expert at breathalyzers and field sobriety tests. On occasion, the officer was polite. But usually, they walked up with their hand on their gun and talked to me like I’d been found guilty of a grisly homicide earlier in the day. A handful of times, they’d tell me to turn off the car, drop the keys out the window, and keep my hands outside the vehicle before even approaching…

Once, when I came home from college, I was pulled over less than a block from my parents’ house. It was late, probably about midnight or so, but I hadn’t been drinking and it was winter so I wasn’t speeding because it had snowed that day. The officer stepped out of his car with his gun drawn. He told me to drop the keys out the window, then exit the car with my hands up and step back toward him. I knew he was wrong, but I wasn’t about to be shot to death down the street from my parents’ house because my failure to immediately comply was interpreted as me plotting to murder that officer. So yeah, I stepped out and backed up toward the officer. He hand cuffed me and refused to tell me why I had been pulled over, or why I had been asked to exit my vehicle. Only when I was sitting in the back of the police car did he tell me that there had been reports of gang activity in the area and that a car fitting my car’s description with a driver fitting my description had recently been involved in said gang activity. Gang activity. In south Naperville. Committed by a Black male driving a bright blue Mazda MX-6 with a gaudy blue and white interior. Yeah, alright. He was very short in asking me what I was doing in the neighborhood so late at night. I explained that my parents lived at that house with the glass backboard over there. He didn’t believe me. He took me back out of the car and put me face down on the hood of the police car to frisk me. I’d already been searched once before he put me in the car. Then, he spent about 15 minutes searching my car while I stood hand cuffed in the cold. My ID had my parents’ address on it, but he still didn’t think I lived there. I could tell he wanted to accuse me of having a fake ID. About a half hour after being pulled over, when he found nothing on me, nothing in my car, and nothing on my record, he reluctantly let me go. He didn’t even say sorry, or explain that it was his mistake; he must’ve been looking for another Black man in a bright blue Mazda MX-6 who was a gang leader in south Naperville. He sat in the street until I drove to my parents’ house, opened the garage door, drove inside, and then closed the garage door.

By the way, for the younger readers, I want to make it clear that having stories like this in the public conversation is not a new thing. When I was a young man in the 1980’s I read plenty of accounts of “driving while black.”  Perhaps the most memorable news item in this vein this was from 2000 when it became a temporary news story when it was revealed that Highland Park, IL police officers admitted that “they were taught to spot Mexican drivers to pull over by looking for large hats. A radio dispatch transcript submitted as evidence includes a Highland Park officer saying, “We got a winner,” after a sombrero sighting.” – Chicago Tribune story from March 31, 2000.  But then after a few weeks or months, stories like this pass away and nothing gets done.

I have said this before on this blog, but I will say it again.  DUIs are a very easy crime to fake.  They are also good tools for police departments that want to harass “unwanted” characters to keep them out of town.  All it takes for a DUI arrest is an officer’s “opinion” that a person was intoxicated because had “bloodshot eyes” and an “odor of alcohol.”  They can not offer a breath test and claim that the defendant “refused.”  It is also easy to make up probable cause for a drug or gun stop.  Let’s say an officer suspects someone is dealing drugs.  He can conduct a stop and frisk.  If there are no drugs, you walk away..If there are drugs, then you say you saw it in “plain sight.”  Or you can create some probable cause by heading straight to the suspected dealer and getting him to make a “furtive move” or run away.

This is not to say that this happens every time, but keep it in mind when you hear that someone was arrested for DUI.  Ask the critical questions:  why were they stopped?  what evidence is there?  Is there video evidence?

This is why video evidence is so crucial.  It is frustrating to me that even in 2016, it is common to have DUI, drug and weapons cases without any corroborating dash cam or body cam video evidence.  This should be mandatory.  Video evidence will often (if not always) establish whether the officer had probable cause, acted in a professional manner, and whether the defendant was violating the law or was just driving while black.

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