Racial profiling of Black and Hispanic drivers has been a major issue in Wichita, Kansas and a persistent injustice throughout the USA. This unequal enforcement of traffic laws is a tremendous financial and social burden for Minority drivers and their families. Then taxes go up for more jail cells, judicial system employees and financial assistance to Minorities who lose their jobs due to these “pretext” stops.
In most cases, racial profiling starts with a traffic stop for which White drivers would seldom be given a ticket. Instead, some police officers, sheriff deputies or State Police are using phony traffic violations as their “probable cause pretext” to stop people-of-color to question or search them, their passengers and/or their vehicles. As a result, thousands of innocent Minority people are ticketed and fined after these racially motivated stops when they are driving home from work, out getting groceries or simply walking.
The Wichita Police Department study of 37,454 traffic and pedestrian stops in 2001 found: Blacks were twice as likely to be stopped by WPD. Blacks were 3 times more likely to be searched, arrested or have officers use excessive force. Black and Hispanic drivers were also more likely to be stopped at night than White drivers.
A second Wichita Police Department study in 2004 showed similar results. Plus, the study done by the Washington, D.C. based Police Foundation for the State of Kansas showed that Blacks were twice as likely to be stopped as Whites in Wichita. There was no change as of 2013. This means that nearly 8,000 more Blacks in Wichita are pulled over each year than if no racial profiling was done in those years by the WPD.
When the Wichita Municipal Court or Sedgwick County Traffic Court is in session, over half of the defendants standing in front of the Judges are Black or Hispanic. And, since traffic stops begin the legal process, it is no surprise that nearly half of the inmates in Kansas jails are Minorities. To house these prisoners—many of whom are in for minor non-violent offenses—it costs taxpayers millions more for additional jail cells and jailers.
These illegal racial profiling stops and the resulting fines or jail time are also creating a major financial hardship on Black and Hispanic families. Since the early 1990’s, there has been a 300% increase in revenue to the City of Wichita from fines. This means that Blacks and Hispanics in Wichita are paying over $2 million dollars more per year than their share for fines. It is estimated that money collected in Kansas from Blacks and Hispanics due to racial profiling exceeds $7 million per year.
In ADDITION to these excessive fines, the vehicle insurance premiums for Black and Hispanic drivers goes up with each new traffic ticket, making it harder to keep policies paid. Without insurance, Minority drivers are left vulnerable to huge debt from accidents plus their driver’s license will be suspended if they cannot afford to pay the higher cost of their vehicle insurance.
Then, if caught driving with a suspended license, the Minority owned car can be impounded and the driver put in jail. The financial disaster to Black and Hispanic families who depend on that driver and car is huge. Family members lose their jobs when they cannot get to work. Whole families are then evicted from the house they were renting or buying because of the lost income.
Some of the people beaten by WPD officers after being stopped have become blind, deaf, left with life-long internal injuries and a few have died as a result of this brutality. But, instead of holding these officers accountable for their excessive use-of-force, the people beaten are charged with “resisting arrest”. Then the victim has to defend themselves in Court against this criminal charge and being sent to jail.
Racism and racial profiling is not only a State and Federal crime but it causes great distrust and lost respect for the vast majority of good and honest law enforcement officers in our City, County and State. A few “bad apples” are spoiling what should be a well-deserved reputation for the vast majority of our hard working police officers and sheriff’s deputies.
We must all work together to change police behavior which targets Minority drivers for race-based stops. Report complaints of racial profiling to the RPAB (316) 371-0013, the Kansas Attorney General (785)296-2215 or Wichita PD (316) 268-4256. It is time to stand up for equal justice!!
Our RPAB has been working since 2000 to end racial profiling in Wichita, KS. Since then, we have built a strong relationship with the Community and Wichita Police Department to rebuilt trust and mutual respect. We are making progress and thank all those involved in making our city safer with less biased law enforcement.