Former Houston linebacker charged with murder

The Guardian

‘We don’t have the benefit of doubt’: the fear of driving while Black

Many Americans associate driving with freedom, but recent tragedies – including the killing of Daunte Wright mean Black families must remain hyper aware The rite of passage and the feeling of freedom that follows passing a driver’s test is effectively dissolved when the license is placed in Black hands. Photograph: Getty Images When Lewis Holloway first obtained his driver’s license at 17, he remembers feeling ecstatic. He was already promised his mother’s car upon getting his learner’s permit a year earlier, adding to the anticipation. “It was an exciting feeling, being able to finally drive legally without getting in trouble,” Holloway, from San Diego, says. Now 28, Holloway’s excitement is waning, and getting in trouble feels out of his control. While many Americans associate driving a car with freedom and autonomy, recent tragedies – including the killing of Daunte Wright, who was stopped by police for an expired license plate – suggest that’s not true for Black Americans. Avoiding switching lanes and sudden movements, and taking a different route if possible, are some of the precautions Holloway has taken when noticing a cop car driving nearby. He is abiding by the law, his vehicle is in good condition, and yet Holloway is hyper-aware of cops. “Police shootings have always been prevalent in the US, but now we have video evidence, and more people are able to see these things going down,” says Holloway. Black drivers are 20% more likely to be pulled over than their white counterparts, and 1.5 to 2 times more likely to be searched than white drivers, despite being less likely to be carrying drugs, guns, or other illegal contraband compared to their white peers. His worst fear when getting pulled over used to be being issued a ticket by a police officer – now, it’s being shot by one. His fears not only are valid, but highly shared among Black drivers in America. After 20-year-old Daunte Wright was killed last week by police officer Kim Potter, a series of tweets revealing the fear Black drivers have on the road displayed the true horrors of driving while Black. Many of the stories detail being pulled over for driving a luxury car, playing music at high volume, and having legal but dark tinted windows. Some tell stories of people who have simply opted out of driving altogether. It is for reasons like these that Holloway, who drives a BMW, doesn’t have plans to modify his car. “I worked for this car, you know. I treated myself, but it feels like if I were to do anything to it that somebody else would be able to do – like tint their windows, get new wheels, lift their pickup truck – I can’t, because that increases the target on my back,” he says. “I’m discouraged from doing things that I would love to do because now I have to think twice about it.” Over recent years, the deaths of Black drivers by police officers during traffic stops has prompted protests and calls to action across America. Just 10 miles from where Wright was killed is Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed. But before George Floyd there was Keith Lamont Scott, Darrius Stewart, Philando Castile and many more. Even with a national racial reckoning unfolding, the trend of fatal police shootings continues to increase, with a total 213 shootings, 30 of which involved Black civilians, in just the first three months of this year. Last year, there were 1,021 fatal police shootings, and 999 fatal shootings in 2019. As for the rate of fatal police shootings among Black Americans, who only make up 13.4% of the population, 35 fatal shootings per million of the population as of March places it much higher than that for any other ethnicity. With roadside interaction one of the most repeated precursors to a fatal police shooting of a Black person, the parents of Black drivers are equipping their children with extra precautions. Anthony Lamar Nelson, 40, is the father of a new driver. His 16-year-old son Xavier recently got his driver’s license in Triangle, Virginia, shortly after obtaining his learner’s permit. He details feelings of excitement and apprehension when his son first got behind the wheel. “I was elated. He’s getting older, he’ll be on his own pretty soon. I wanted him to have that feeling of independence, but behind that excitement was nervousness. I’m scared he might not know how to deal with the situation when [police] approach him. He will get approached,” Nelson says about police racially profiling Black drivers. I always had this fearlessness when driving. But once you become a parent, you think differently To prepare Xavier, Nelson says he gave him the same talk his father and grandfather gave him. Drive with few people in your car, drive only during the daytime, and don’t drive in certain places where you know you don’t belong – overall, he doesn’t want his son to give police a reason to pull him over. But driving with more than one person in a vehicle, at night, and through various towns are not legal reasons for police to pull people over, further highlighting the biases placed on Black drivers trying to get from point A to B. Nelson and his son have an agreement that Xavier has to follow: he has to share details about where he is going, and has to call Nelson if he finds himself in an area he isn’t familiar with, or if he is pulled over. And in cases where an officer might ask Xavier to hang up his phone, Nelson has told his son to ask the officer to hang it up for him, to avoid having to reach for the device. Advising his son on how to react when dealing with cops has entirely changed Nelson’s perspective on driving. “I always had this fearlessness when driving. But once you become a parent, you think differently,” he says, noting that their “driving while Black talk” is more important than their talks about girls. “I used to only have to be scared for myself, but I knew I could handle myself. I don’t know if he can handle himself. That’s my worry. I don’t want to see my son’s last days on somebody’s body cam or someone else’s camera. No parent should see that.” Like Anthony, other parents are reconciling with increased fears of having Black children on the road. Sedrick and Angela Dennis, 54 and 52, have 21-year-old twin boys they worry about. Both parents have advised their children, who live in Texas, to always respect authority, have their license and registration within reach, make sure their tags are up to date and any tickets paid. But even with simple rules, both parents still find themselves worrying. The feeling of freedom following passing your test is effectively dissolved when the license is placed in Black hands “You always have that anxiety that something could happen. If I hear sirens or see something, I immediately call my kids to make sure they’re good and not involved in it,” Dennis says. As a white mother to two Black sons, she finds herself worrying about situations that she could never imagine for herself. She’s now considering telling them to record on their phone if they happen to be pulled over by police. But using a phone to record an interaction with a police officer has proven to sometimes put those filming in more danger. “I do worry about my children every day, because I know people don’t see them the way they look at me. They’re going to pass me by, but they’re going to pull my kids over,” she says. Sedrick, who can relate to feeling like skin tone is a target, recognizes the apprehension his sons might be feeling during this time of heightened tension between police and the Black community. “Of course when they get pulled over it’s going to be on their minds. That in itself is really hard on the young man’s mind, knowing that because of your skin color, and if you do comply and you do all the right things, that you have to carry that weight, that energy around with yourself,” he explains. The rite of passage and the feeling of freedom that follows passing a driver’s test is effectively dissolved when the license is placed in Black hands. As Anthony said: “It’s hard navigating life because you’re not sure what’s real or not when you’re a Black male. At any moment they can say ‘put your hands up’ and we’re shot. We have to think twice when we’re doing something because we don’t have that benefit of the doubt when we step out the door.”