Addressing Issues: Racial Profiling

Opinion:

If Minnesota enacts a universal standard enforcement seat belt law, it will open the door for "differential enforcement" or racial profiling, making traffic stops based only on ethnicity.

Facts:
  • The Blue Ribbon Panel to Increase Seat Belt Use among African Americans (October 2000) reported that while organizations expressed concern about "Driving While Black" and racial profiling, support is growing for passage of primary seat belt laws. Several prominent national organizations of color support primary seat belt legislation, including: the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, National Urban League, Blacks in Government, National Conference of Black Mayors, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, the National Education Fund and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority
  • The National Black Caucus of State Legislators released the findings of a landmark study in October, 1999. The report states, "If primary seat belt laws do in fact contribute to harassment, the survey should have found both more reports of harassment and a greater perception of harassment from people living in primary law states. It found neither. In fact, African Americans in states with primary seat belt laws reported fewer problems."
  • Studies in several states which moved from secondary to primary seat belt enforcement (Michigan, California, Louisiana, Georgia, Oklahoma, Maryland) found that in each state, there was a perception among minorities that enforcement would stronger and that they would be more likely to be ticketed. In fact the percentage of tickets going to minorities decreased while seat belt use among minorities increased significantly.
  • Those same studies found a greater proportion (or at best equally proportionate) of minorities are cited for belt use violations under secondary than primary enforcement. That is, secondary laws have produced a double negative effect for minority populations: more injuries and proportionally more belt use law citations.
  • In "Saving Lives and Liberties (October 15, 1999) the American Civil Liberties Union "supports efforts that are both designed to preserve civil liberties and to save lives. It is clear that African-Americans and Latinos constitute a disproportionate number of all highway fatalities. … Our support, however, cannot be without caveat. … Efforts to encourage African-Americans, Latinos and all Americans to buckle up must be coupled with simultaneous efforts to end racial profiling."
  • The National Conference of Black Mayors is on record in favor of the passage and enforcement of primary (standard) seat belt laws. "A disproportionate number of African Americans and other minorities continue to be at increased risk of dying in motor vehicle crashes. … Equally troubling is that 42% of minority infants compared to 15% of white infants - are at great risk because they are not properly placed in child safety seats. Public education and awareness are important tools for increasing the use rate, but enforcement of seat belt and safety seat laws is also a critical component of a successful seat belt program."
Contact the Minnesota Seat Belt Coalition by calling 651-228-7304 or 1-800-444-9150 x 304 or by e-mail at msc@minnesotasafetycouncil.org.