Black and low-income drivers impacted most by traffic stops in Memphis

Published: Dec. 11, 2022 at 7:03 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The organization, “Decarcerate Memphis” is a coalition of community leaders, activists, lawyers, and concerned citizens working to apply common sense strategies and a community-oriented approach to policing.

The group was established in 2020 and now wants to see more transparency from Memphis police and the city, when it comes to traffic stops in the Bluff City.

Tuesday, the organization presented its research from Memphis and Shelby County, tracking data over five years.

“We made a public records request for five years of traffic tickets and these are the results of that analysis,” Organizer Adam Nelson said. “That was over 500,000 tickets and over 800,000 citations that we analyzed.”

Decarcerate Memphis says traffic laws are disproportionately enforced upon Black and low-income drivers in Memphis.

In their summary report to the council, organizers say they found Black drivers were cited 10 percentage points more than their share of the population.

We spoke with organizer Joshua Adams who says he recognizes the need to keep people safe but says he still has concerns.

“It seems that there may be (like mainly) a scraping attempt to find people who are in possession of contraband, such as drugs or if they’re in possession of a weapon, so those are the things we’re trying to see through the data,” Adams said.

“I’m going to be honest, as an African American female in a city that’s predominately Black, and as we talk about crime in our city -- our crime is nestled in certain communities, unfortunately,” Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis said.

According to data obtained from the city, police department, and Shelby County Clerk’s office, among others, Black drivers were twice as likely as white drivers to receive multiple citations on one ticket.

Decarcerate Memphis also studied a sample of 487 criminal court cases, stemming from traffic stops in 2019 and 2021.

90 percent of defendants were people of color, and most had misdemeanor charges.

Their report also states two-thirds of those cases were dropped, but Adams says court costs are just one part of the financial burden.

“With us not having a living wage ordinance, or not having jobs that want to pay people ... you have a situation where people can’t afford the administrative ownership of cars,” Adams said. “Then the repairs and then the regular maintenance, so, then these extra fines and fees leave people to be locked in poverty.”

Adams says equality and equity in policing are crucial.

A message echoed by Chief Davis.

“We have to find a way to ensure we have balance in that we’re not targeting individuals but we’re protecting the public at large,” Chief Davis said.

Organizers say they hope to continue meeting with the city council, to find solutions for transparency.

“We’re not interested in vehicles that need repair with a taillight that’s broken or some other inoperable kind of a situation we’re not interested in that,” she said. “We’re interested in protecting our citizens against road rage, against reckless driving and against violent crime.”

Click here to sign up for our newsletter!

Click here to report a spelling or grammar error. Please include the headline.