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

By John Whitehead, Constitutional and Civil Rights Lawyer, the Rutherford Institute.

Quit resisting.”—Cops yell at compliant young man who was thrown to the ground, 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

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.”

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.

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. Because he did not feel safe stopping immediately, Tucker drove calmly and slowly to a safe, well-lit area a few minutes away before stopping in front of his cousin’s house.

That’s when what should have been a routine traffic stop became yet another example of police brutality in America and another reason why Americans are justified in their fear of cops.

According to the lawsuit that was just filed in federal court by The Rutherford Institute, police ordered Tucker out of his vehicle, and after he had stepped out, immediately placed him under arrest for “resisting” (in this case, not immediately stopping) and searched his person and his vehicle. Tucker was then ordered to move to the front of the police vehicle and place his hands on its hood.

Two more police officers arrived on the scene, walked up behind Tucker, and grabbed his arms to restrain and handcuffed him.

Then the fourth police officer arrived on the scene. According to police dash cam footage, Tucker was thrown to the ground and punched numerous times in the head and body. The police also yelled repeatedly at Tucker to “quit resisting.” Tucker, bleeding with injuries to his face, head and arm, was then placed into the back of a police vehicle and EMTs were called to treat him. He was eventually taken to the hospital for severe injuries to his face and arm.

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

This young man submitted to police. He didn’t challenge police authority when they frisked him, searched his car, handcuffed him, and beat him to a pulp.

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.

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.

Add a traffic stop to the mix, and that disadvantage increases dramatically.

According to the Justice Department, the most common reason for a citizen to come into contact with the police is being a driver in a traffic stop.

On average, one in 10 Americans gets pulled over by police.

Black drivers are 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers, or about 23 percent more likely than Hispanic drivers. As the Washington Post concludes, “‘Driving while black’ is, indeed, a measurable phenomenon.”

Indeed, police officers have been given free range to pull anyone over for a variety of reasons.

This free-handed approach to traffic stops has resulted in drivers being stopped for windows that are too heavily tinted, for driving too fast, driving too slow, failing to maintain speed, following too closely, improper lane changes, distracted driving, screeching a car’s tires, and leaving a parked car door open for too long.

Motorists can also be stopped by police for driving near a bar or on a road that has large amounts of drunk driving, driving a certain make of car (Mercedes, Grand Prix and Hummers are among the most ticketed vehicles), having anything dangling from the rearview mirror (air fresheners, handicap parking permits, troll transponders or rosaries), and displaying pro-police bumper stickers.

Incredibly, a federal appeals court actually ruled unanimously in 2014 that acne scars and driving with a stiff upright posture are reasonable grounds for being pulled over. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that driving a vehicle that has a couple air fresheners, rosaries and pro-police bumper stickers at 2 MPH over the speed limit is suspicious, meriting a traffic stop.

Equally appalling, in Heien v. North Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court—which has largely paved the way for the police and other government agents to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance—allowed police officers to stop drivers who appear nervous, provided they provide a palatable pretext for doing so.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the lone objector in the case. Dissenting in Heien, Sotomayor warned, “Giving officers license to effect seizures so long as they can attach to their reasonable view of the facts some reasonable legal interpretation (or misinterpretation) that suggests a law has been violated significantly expands this authority… One wonders how a citizen seeking to be law-abiding and to structure his or her behavior to avoid these invasive, frightening, and humiliating encounters could do so.”

In other words, drivers beware.

Traffic stops aren’t just dangerous. They can be downright deadly.

Remember Walter L. Scott? Reportedly pulled over for a broken taillight, Scott—unarmed—ran away from the police officer, who pursued and shot him from behind, first with a Taser, then with a gun. Scott was struck five times, “three times in the back, once in the upper buttocks and once in the ear — with at least one bullet entering his heart.”

Samuel Dubose, also unarmed, was pulled over for a missing front license plate. He was reportedly shot in the head after a brief struggle in which his car began rolling forward.

Levar Jones was stopped for a seatbelt offense, just as he was getting out of his car to enter a convenience store. Directed to show his license, Jones leaned into his car to get his wallet, only to be shot four times by the “fearful” officer. Jones was also unarmed.

Bobby Canipe was pulled over for having an expired registration. When the 70-year-old reached into the back of his truck for his walking cane, the officer fired several shots at him, hitting him once in the abdomen.

Dontrell Stevens was stopped “for not bicycling properly.” The officer pursuing him “thought the way Stephens rode his bike was suspicious. He thought the way Stephens got off his bike was suspicious.” Four seconds later, sheriff’s deputy Adams Lin shot Stephens four times as he pulled out a black object from his waistband. The object was his cell phone. Stephens was unarmed.

Sandra Bland, pulled over for allegedly failing to use her turn signal, was arrested after refusing to comply with the police officer’s order to extinguish her cigarette and exit her vehicle. The encounter escalated, with the officer threatening to “light” Bland up with his taser. Three days later, Bland was found dead in her jail cell. “You’re doing all of this for a failure to signal?” Bland asked as she got out of her car, after having been yelled at and threatened repeatedly.

Keep in mind, from the moment those lights start flashing and that siren goes off, we’re all in the same boat. However, it’s what happens after you’ve been pulled over that’s critical.

Survival is the key.

Technically, you have the right to remain silent (beyond the basic requirement to identify yourself and show your registration). You have the right to refuse to have your vehicle searched. You have the right to film your interaction with police. You have the right to ask to leave. You also have the right to resist an unlawful order such as a police officer directing you to extinguish your cigarette, put away your phone or stop recording them.

However, there is a price for asserting one’s rights. That price grows more costly with every passing day.

If you ask cops and their enablers what Americans should do to stay alive during encounters with police, they will tell you to comply, cooperate, obey, not resist, not argue, not make threatening gestures or statements, avoid sudden movements, and submit to a search of their person and belongings.

The problem, of course, is what to do when compliance is not enough.

After all, every day we hear about situations in which unarmed Americans complied and still died during an encounter with police simply because they appeared to be standing in a “shooting stance” or held a cell phone or a garden hose or carried around a baseball bat or answered the front door or held a spoon in a threatening manner or ran in an aggressive manner holding a tree branch or wandered around naked or hunched over in a defensive posture or made the mistake of wearing the same clothes as a carjacking suspect (dark pants and a basketball jersey) or dared to leave an area at the same time that a police officer showed up or had a car break down by the side of the road or were deaf or homeless or old.

Now you can make all kinds of excuses to justify these shootings, and in fact that’s exactly what you’ll hear from politicians, police unions, law enforcement officials and individuals who are more than happy to march in lockstep with the police.

However, to suggest that a good citizen is a compliant citizen and that obedience will save us from the police state is not only recklessly irresponsible, but it is also deluded and out of touch with reality.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, in the American police state, compliance is no longer enough. Frankly, the only truly compliant, submissive and obedient citizen in a police state is a dead one.

If you’re starting to feel somewhat overwhelmed, intimidated and fearful for your life and the lives of your loved ones, you should be.

You should be very afraid.

I am.

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  • WillDippel

    Here is an article that looks at where a significant portion of America’s police forces are being trained:

    http://viableopposition.blogspot.ca/2016/07/who-is-training-americas-police-forces.html

    Watching how Israel handles Palestinians will give us a good sense of what lies ahead for American civilians.

  • thomas h

    I have been arrested 7 times and roughed up zero times.

    Keep hands visible.
    Follow directions slowly and precisely.
    Nobody gets hurt.

    I am no fan of police, but arguing is for COURT not the street.

    • nomadd

      im guessing youre white

      • thomas h

        Yeah. So what?

        Running from police is stupid, but blacks do it all the time and complain about the results.

        • nomadd

          chuckle

          • thomas h

            I am guessing you are a black that has trouble following directions. That low IQ thing.

          • nomadd

            u just proved my point

          • thomas h

            If you can not afford a decent lawyer, don’t chance misdemeanors, much less felonies. You will be fucked by your public defender.

            Has NOTHING to do with race.

            “Do not do the crime if you can’t afford good representation” applies to all races.

          • nomadd

            deny the racism of our judicial and criminal justice system if you want. thats your privilege as a white person.

          • thomas h

            You ever buy a good lawyer? Fucking worked for OJ.

            I spent 35k related to a misdemeanor once. You could too, if you had 35k.

            It is about MONEY not race.

          • nomadd

            whatever you say. and quit saying it to me.

          • thomas h

            Fuck you. Tell me how not having a lawyer worth a fuck, yet going to court, is a GOOD idea.

            You are not my boss.

            I am not yours, but I would suggest you are acting as if you are functionally retarded.

          • nomadd

            lol

          • thomas h

            I spent a lot of time in Africa. Unless you are as moronic as you come across here, you’d take Baltimore cops over Harare or Luanda cops.

            You would be a “fucking american”, not a black. And one with no powerful friends of any kind.

          • nomadd

            uh huh

          • thomas h

            BTW: I have nothing to apologize for. You are the racist here.

          • nomadd

            uh huh

          • thomas h

            You keep managing to say less than nothing while painting yourself as a colored activist political bigot. Is this your goal or are you dumber than you come across as?

          • nomadd

            chirp chirp

          • thomas h

            Your less than nothing’s lesser cousin?

            Christ, you are a moron. A bigoted moron at that.

          • nomadd

            do tell

          • thomas h

            So you can say “uh huh” because you have no arguments?

            Good luck out there. Maybe if you try really hard you can find a US policeman to abuse you like happens in your fever dreams.

          • nomadd

            well i can say youre paranoid

          • thomas h

            Footage released today of AZ cops executing an unarmed white man.

            https://m.youtube.com/watch?t=3s&v=M62Va6Ft2cw

            Tell me again about so called white priviledge. Didn’t even make the news, other than locally.

          • nomadd

            why r u talking to me? get a clue. this discussion was over several racial slurs ago.

          • Sparticus

            You are just another victim of government division. They want all the Slaves, YES, YOU ARE ALL SLAVES, divided so they can be easily ruled and dominated by the prison industrial complex. You all need to unite and fight back on wall street; because if you checkmate the Paymaster You win the Game.

            They divide all of you by Race, Gender, Religion, Sex, Political … And they have Americans so Divided that they are all helpless and cannot even stage a proper protest!

          • nomadd

            u got all the answers i see

          • Sparticus

            Yes and if people would read them, and pick up, none of you would have any problems, either. I do this for Charity. I know how to fix the Government.

        • nomadd

          im also guessing, since youve been arrested 7 times, that you benefit from the white privilege of lenient sentencing.

          • Sparticus

            Quit Crying Because of your Color. I do not care what Color you are, it makes ZERO Impression on me. White people have been SHOT, ABUSED and JAILED TOO! White People are slaves too, but most are too DUMB to know it! IF you fear police they beat on You. Police are Thugs! Stop being Afraid. Also, Read the ART of WAR, because you cannot fight when outgunned.

            I am sick of being stuck on this prison planet with a bunch of LAME slaves! If you people would learn to gather your numbers, and stop being afraid, then you would be KINGS and not SLAVES!

            Look, I only Need 1-million Slaves and I can OWN WALL STREET.

            GET THE PICTURE?

          • nomadd

            lol. u got no clothes

          • Sparticus

            I am not the one crying on here because of FEAR of the Police. I know how to handle Police. Never had a Problem. And, If I did, I am smart enough to round up a few friends and pay the offender ( whom ever that may be) a home visit. Everyone always sees the light when you show up on their front porch.

          • thomas h

            Misdemeanors, shit for brains.

  • Sparticus

    I am not; because if someone screws with me: I hit them where it hurts. I treat people the way I want to be treated however, tread on me, and I will turn mid-evil. If you were all like me you would not be having this problem with police.

    US Citizens Have: ” Citizens Arrest Rights;” which allows “use of force” with less scrutinizing than law enforcement which “only borrows” this right from citizens who authorize them. So … people,You are the ones who allow police to use force because YOU loan them your RIGHT.

    WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE … Take Responsibility, AMERICA, or YOU WILL NEVER BE FREE.

    • nomadd

      bs

      • Sparticus

        Gospel. Americans are lame and that is why they abuse You.

        • nomadd

          uh huh. and youre going to assault an armed trained professional
          ‘ I treat people the way I want to be treated however, tread on me, and I will turn mid-evil. ‘
          youll turn dead.

          • Sparticus

            Good … But I will take my Vengeance and it will be a Mighty Vengeance! You are afraid and that is your weakness. Death is nothing to fear. Again, you have to be smart and choose the right time and place to strike. You do not have to fight when outgunned, read the Art of War.

          • Sparticus

            Trained professional … You`ve got to be Joking?

  • Bob

    If you see the flashing lights and don’t pull over right away, don’t expect kid glove treatment. We’ve all been warned now for years.

  • pat

    Most individuals who aspire to be police officers have always been ‘special’. The 40+ year drug war has lowered the bar year after year and now the misfits are throughout the management hierarchy. They use swat squads for nearly everything. The failure to screen candidates adequately over the years is the reason so many think its the ‘training’. Ex-military should not be allowed.

  • jcwconsult

    Traffic stops would be reduced by at least 50% if posted speed limits on main roads and highways were all set at the safest 85th percentile speed points, rather than being improperly and less-safely set 10 mph or more lower than those safest points to create lucrative speed traps enforced for profits rather than for safety. These speed traps are for-profit rackets, not safety programs, and no one should tolerate them.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

    • Greta

      Google is paying 97$ per hour,with weekly payouts.You can also avail this.
      On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $11752 this last four weeks..with-out any doubt it’s the most-comfortable job I have ever done .. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it GoogleNetJobsMarketWorkFromHome/find/jobs……

  • Sparticus

    Now, Again … America, I only need 1-million of you.

    IF … You all meet me on wall street, and do as I say, I promise you anything and “everything” YOU WANT, plus anything else? This is all very, very easy and for those of you who fear DEATH, I don`t, but I have offered you a “non-violent” ( girly) way to get your hearts desire. If you want the police to behave … SIMPLE. Government will either OBEY or go Bankrupt.

    You want basic income … Simple, Government will either OBEY or go Bankrupt.

    You want Universal Education/Medical …. Government will either OBEY or Go Bankrupt.

    You want Peace, and this pays for the above, then GOVERNMENT EITHER OBEYS OR THEY GO BK!

    Corporations will either OBEY or GO Bankrupt. BANKERS and THE RICH will either OBEY or GO bankrupt and YOU DO NOT HAVE TO FIRE A SHOT! You have all the POWER, America, and it is your choice: Slavery or Freedom.

    You see, America, there is over 1-Quad-trillion in bad debt, derivatives and bogus investments … All someone needs to do is light a match and Scream FIRE! If 1-million people ( a tiny number) show up on wall street and close the NYSE, the NWO will turn on itself, along with all the bankers corporations and SCUM … A WISE GENERAL KNOWS HOW AND WHERE TO STRIKE. I can win this war before I even show UP!

    However, I cannot do it alone … I need 1-million. There are 6-million people living in abject poverty in NYC alone. So, think about it America, “Love your Slavery and Poverty” or learn how to fight back?

    I am watching and I am everywhere.

  • Sparticus

    Trained Professionals … Oh, that`s Rich!

    Trained THUGS is more like it.

    If only you people knew better? No wonder you fear the police. I only FEAR ONE THING … GOD. You know, Americans, You`re lame and believe fairy tales: the theory of Evolution has so many holes in it it`s laughable! You fear Violence and that is why you fear police. Stop being afraid. Stop Fearing Danger. Stop being controlled like Animals.

    Even JESUS told you people not to FEAR DEATH. IF you FEAR something you give it POWER. Stop Fearing them. Start Assembling your Numbers and Make your own Police Force. Hitler did it, now, if Hitler was some sort of NUT, Crazy, or FOOL … Well, He has all of you beat by ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE! Why cant Americans, with a Constitution, ( Hitler did not have that) form their own Police Force?

    Now, I should be charging YOU, America, because You do not even know your own Rights.

    You have the Rights to Assemble, form a Militia, Bear ARMS and even POLICE and CITIZENS ARREST; which allows use of FORCE. You see, America, You give your police authority and that authority is only on lease from the people. LEARN and ASSEMBLE.

    Give ME 1-MILLION: SICK and TIRED, FED UP, ANGRY and POOR Protesters and I will give them the WORLD. The World is on Wall Street, and HE who Controls WALL STREET, Controls the WORLD.

    Afraid … “GET BACK TO WORK!!”

    Oh, and as to the PROOF of GOD … See, Genesis 2:21-24 and if you are wise you will find GODS signature.

    Stop Fearing men … Fear only God.

  • Sparticus

    Trained Professionals … Oh, that`s Rich!

    Trained THUGS is more like it.

    If only you people knew better? No wonder you fear the police. I only FEAR ONE THING … GOD. You know, Americans, You`re lame and believe fairy tales: the theory of Evolution has so many holes in it it`s laughable! You fear Violence and that is why you fear police. Stop being afraid. Stop Fearing Danger. Stop being controlled like Animals.

    Even JESUS told you people not to FEAR DEATH. IF you FEAR something you give it POWER. Stop Fearing them. Start Assembling your Numbers and Make your own Police Force. Hitler did it, now, if Hitler was some sort of NUT, Crazy, or FOOL … Well, He has all of you beat by ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE! Why cant Americans, with a Constitution, ( Hitler did not have that) form their own Police Force?

    Now, I should be charging YOU, America, because You do not even know your own Rights.

    You have the Rights to Assemble, form a Militia, Bear ARMS and even POLICE and CITIZENS ARREST; which allows use of FORCE. You see, America, You give your police authority and that authority is only on lease from the people. LEARN and ASSEMBLE.

    Give ME 1-MILLION: SICK and TIRED, FED UP, ANGRY and POOR Protesters and I will give them the WORLD. The World is on Wall Street, and HE who Controls WALL STREET, Controls the WORLD.

    Afraid … “GET BACK TO WORK!!”

    Oh, and as to the PROOF of GOD … See, Genesis 2:21-24 and if you are wise you will find GODS signature.

    Stop Fearing men … Fear only God.

  • nomadd

    Now heres a rarity. Cops never go to jail for killing black people.

    South Carolina cop sentenced to 20 years for murder of Walter Scott.
    http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/12/09/scot-d09.html