A new study confirms what Black people already know about traffic stops

The first few words a police officer says to a Black driver indicate how the rest of the stop will go. Suppose the cop is barking commands and demanding someone be obedient before informing the waylaid motorist politely of the reason for being detained. In that case, things are probably not going to go very well.

Police should stop making traffic stops, and traffic enforcement groups should manage traffic. A broken tail light, an expired registration tag, or failure to signal correctly should not be an opportunity to escalate. Unless there is a standing warrant for the person pulled over or a hostage tied up in the backseat — a failed light should not turn into jail. Traffic enforcement folks could carry bulbs and sell them to those needing one. Highways would be far friendlier if we had a version of Mexico's Green Angels.

It would also be fantastic if the US were to drop the Eric Cartman model of "Respect my Authoritay" policing.


"The first 45 words, which is less than 30 seconds on average, spoken by a law enforcement officer during a car stop to a Black driver can be quite telling about how the stop will end," says Eugenia Rho, a researcher at Virginia Tech.

Amid the recent high-profile killing of Tyre Nichols and other Black motorists after traffic stops, the findings offer a grim sketch of how police stops can escalate and how Black men recognize the warning signs.

Rho and her colleagues focused on Black drivers because this group is stopped by the police at higher rates and are more likely to be handcuffed, searched, and arrested than any other racial group.

"The car stop is by far the most common way people come into contact with the police," says Jennifer Eberhardt, a social psychologist at Stanford University. "With the spread of body-worn cameras, we now have access to how these interactions unfold in real time."