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Nervous About Traffic Stops? I Am. You Should Be, Too

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From flickr.com: Traffic stop {MID-200295}
Traffic stop
(Image by Chris Yarzab)
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We've all been there before.

You're driving along and you see a pair of flashing blue lights in your rearview mirror. Whether or not you've done anything wrong, you get a sinking feeling in your stomach.

You've read enough news stories, seen enough headlines, and lived in the American police state long enough to be anxious about any encounter with a cop that takes place on the side of the road.

For better or worse, from the moment you're pulled over, you're at the mercy of law enforcement officers who have almost absolute discretion to decide who is a threat, what constitutes resistance, and how harshly they can deal with the citizens they were appointed to "serve and protect."

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This is what I call "blank check policing," in which the police get to call all of the shots.

So if you're nervous about traffic stops, you have every reason to be.

Trying to predict the outcome of any encounter with the police is a bit like playing Russian roulette: most of the time you will emerge relatively unscathed, although decidedly poorer and less secure about your rights, but there's always the chance that an encounter will turn deadly.

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For instance, it was just a year ago, in the early morning hours of Dec. 1, 2016, when Gregory Tucker, a young African-American man, was pulled over by Louisiana police for a broken taillight.

What should have been a routine traffic stop became yet another example of police brutality in America.

According to the lawsuit that was filed in federal court by The Rutherford Institute, Tucker was thrown to the ground by police, beaten, arrested and hospitalized for severe injuries to his face and arm, allegedly in retaliation for "resisting arrest" by driving to a safe, well-lit area before submitting to a traffic stop for a broken tail light.

Mind you, this young man complied with police. He just didn't do it fast enough to suit their purposes.

If this young man is "guilty" of anything, he's guilty of ticking off the cops by being cautious, concerned for his safety, and all too aware of the dangers faced by young black men during encounters with the police.

Frankly, you don't even have to be young or black or a man to fear for your life during an encounter with the police.

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Just consider the growing numbers of unarmed people are who being shot and killed just for standing a certain way, or moving a certain way, or holding something--anything--that police could misinterpret to be a gun, or igniting some trigger-centric fear in a police officer's mind that has nothing to do with an actual threat to their safety.

At a time when police can do no wrong--at least in the eyes of the courts, police unions and politicians dependent on their votes--and a "fear" for officer safety is used to justify all manner of police misconduct, "we the people" are at a severe disadvantage.

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John W. Whitehead is an attorney and author who has written, debated and practiced widely in the area of constitutional law and human rights. Whitehead's aggressive, pioneering approach to civil liberties has earned him numerous accolades and (more...)
 

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