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Sunday, October 26, 2003

Big Trunk on TV in the Twin Cities

Scott Johnson, Big Trunk of Power Line, appeared on Face to Face this morning. Face to Face is the "Crossfire" of local PBS television, except that my impression is that it's far more intelligent -- less stridency, more discussion, and no yelling, buíochas le Dia.

I feel that Big Trunk came across well, although he appeared more nervous than Myron Oldfield. The critical issue involved a question that was buried in Appendix 6 of the study, where officers reported that they did not know the race of the driver before pulling them over in 90% of all stops. When Oldfield stated that the question was improperly asked and relegated as a footnote, and the moderator on the left disparaged the question as foolishly relying on self-reporting, Big Trunk pointed out that the entire study relied on self-reporting by traffic officers. If self-reporting invalidates that question, he said, then the entire study is flawed.

In a common-sense way, we can view the 90% level to test its reliability. How often does a police officer pull abreast of you before pulling you over? In my experience, unfortunately in multiple experiences, never. At least half of all stops occur in night conditions, where it's impossible to see the skin color or race of a driver until you are already stopped or have lit up the interior of the vehicle with door-mounted spotlights, and that only happens when you've committed to stopping the vehicle. Even in daylight, high seat backs and a lack of interior lighting make it difficult to see the gender of drivers from behind the vehicle, let alone race. So reasonably, you could say in 75% of all cases it's impossible to know the race of the driver until you've decided to pull them over. Try testing this out when you're driving on the freeway, especially at night, or even on city streets, and you'll see how difficult it is to do that.

As Big Trunk said, you can't negate people's individual experiences. I've been pulled over a couple of times for technical violations when I wondered why the officer wasn't doing something more productive (although I'm smart enough not to say that to the officer); if I was inclined to believe in discrimination and I belonged to a historically persecuted minority, and there's no question that African-Americans have been historically persecuted in this country, then I would assign that experience to discrimination without question. I'm sure that there have been cases where it's true. But to say it's a systematic problem goes against common sense and, really, against the findings of this study.

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11:16 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink

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