That video of Will Stack, the black man talking about his traffic stop in South Carolina, has gone viral now with over 22.3 million views. I’ve seen it shared on my feed a few times now. It’s a good video with a good message. In a report done by the local news there, Stack said, “I just wanted to bring something positive to social media, something positive to the world to let people know there are good cops out there, there are intelligent Africans out there, it exists.”
Here’s the video:
Stack and the reporter for the story are right: Most traffic stops are largely uneventful. That in itself is worth celebrating and boasting as a positive thing.
After all, there are about 209 million drivers in the United States. About 17.7 million people get pulled over every year, largely for speeding. Most of those traffic stops are routine, not just for citizens, but police. It’s infrequent that an officer gets assaulted and/or killed during a traffic stop, although it sure makes for an effective video in training sessions for counseling what not to do at a stop.
But, I hope our standard isn’t, “Well ‘this’ black guy didn’t get killed in this particular traffic stop and ‘this’ black guy even spoke intelligently about it!”
I worry that people are taking the wrong message from the video, although perhaps I’m being presumptuous. Not many people would say all cops are bad and I wouldn’t say that, either, because it’s missing the point. This whole policing issue has never been about the quantifiable number of good cops and bad cops or sweeping generalizations about cops and their jobs.
The issue is wide-ranging, but briefly, it’s about the fact that we have no idea how often police officers kill citizens in the United States, but of the available data, we know that they disproportionately kill people of color; we know that largely, it’s rare that a police officer gets charged, much less faces jail time for wrongdoing, or that underlining that whole process is the propensity to take an officer at his word (although video, I hope, is changing that now) and give them long latitude for their actions under the cliche guise of the danger they face and the proverbial split-second decisions they have to make; and finally, we know that many of the “good cops” out there are feeding into a culture of silence. That is, they aren’t speaking up about bad cops. Or even intervening when bad cops are doing bad things.
There’s a cultural problem within the police system itself, there’s a cultural problem within the political apparatus to appear tough on crime and perpetuate “law and order,” there’s a longstanding problem in the criminal justice system in leaning too heavily on those of color and disadvantaged incomes, and there’s a wider public culture that supports all of this for a few reasons that I won’t get into here.
Police assaults, shootings and killings are rare relative to the routine traffic stop. I’m all for the positivity that most of our cops aren’t killing most of our black people, but let’s not lose sight that is a real, potent issue at play.
And for the record, even when a traffic stop is so-called routine and uneventful, as we’ve seen in Ferguson, surrounding counties and in municipalities throughout the United States, those routine traffic stops are a way for the police, the courts and the political apparatus to plunder, again, largely people of color and disadvantaged means, to support their municipality budgets.