Anecdotal experience suggests that race matters when you get behind the wheel: minority drivers are more likely to get stopped and pulled over by police than white drivers.
A group of law students at Seton Hall University in New Jersey recently tested that conventional wisdom. When New Jersey police officers issue a traffic ticket, they are required to fill out driver’s name, age, eye color, residence, license plate, and so on, but are not required to record their race or ethnicity. Determining whether tickets were being issued disproportionately to black or Latino drivers meant that the researchers had to collect that data themselves. They spent four weeks last October sitting in on traffic court hearings in Bloomfield, a small township in New Jersey.
The hearings take place twice a day. Researchers sat in on about 70 hours of hearings and observed 855 ticketed individuals, according to their report. During their observations, they made note of the ethnicity, age, gender, and area of residence for each person who showed up.
Bloomfield is an affluent, predominantly white suburb that lies northwest of Newark. CNN Money once deemed it “one of the best places to live” due to low crime rates, and it’s beendescribed as the kind of town that evokes a particular kind of American sentimentality — duck crossing signs, picnicking families, ice cream parlors, and little chapels with green lawns.
The selection of the town was fairly random, according to Mark Denbeaux, the professor who led the study out of the law school’s Center for Policy and Research, which he directs. Students wanted to look closely at a border town, meaning one that is surrounded by a variety of demographics, and one that was easily accessible from Seton Hall.
‘Black men have to sit there and eat shit.’
Just south of Bloomfield lies East Orange, which is over 88 percent black, and Newark, which is 53 percent black and 34 percent Latino. Newark and East Orange are ranked the fifth and sixth poorest towns in New Jersey, respectively. Bloomfield’s other bordering towns — Glen Ridge, Nutley, Clifton, Montclair, and Belleville — are almost entirely white, and relatively affluent.
The researchers found that black and Latino drivers were being disproportionately ticketed, accounting for 78 percent of court appearances for traffic violations despite comprising roughly 43 percent of Bloomfield’s population. Drawing on a database of tickets issued by Bloomfield Police between September 2014 and August 2015, they determined that almost 84 percent of 7,110 traffic tickets with verifiable addresses had occurred in the areas around East Orange and Newark.