Friday, November 23, 2007

Was Representative Danny Davis Racially Profiled?

On Monday (Nov. 19th) Representative Danny Davis (D-Illinois, 7th District) was pulled over early in the morning. Davis claims that he was not speeding, he was not swerving, nor was he drunk. He says the reason he was pulled over is that he is black and had three black passengers in the car at 1 a.m. in the morning. The Congressman was driving three guests he had on his radio show, which he was supposedly working on until around midnight on Sunday. It was on his way from the station when he was pulled over on a street with no traffic for, as the Chicago Police Department says, driving left of center. Davis said that, after careful consideration of the incident, he came to the conclusion that he was pulled over due to his skin color. He said he tried to conceive of any other reason that the pair of cops (who were white, but it doesn't really matter because racial profiling comes from cops of all colors) would pull him over.

It appears as if it is a case of he-said he-said. Looking at the law that Davis is alleged to have broke, however, is a trip into obscure traffic law. The law, 625 ILCS 5/11-706, states that cars cannot drive left of center in numerous situations, with numerous exceptions (I'm not going to spell it out here, just click on the link and read it [if you can't read it on the website, copy and paste it into Word]). From Davis' story (the only one currently out there, plus all we have to go on), he violated no part of the statute. Davis does not strike me as the road-tearin' car-swervin' kind of gentleman from his video on CNN. As a quick sidenote - it appears that Tony Harris does not realize that Davis' beef with the traffic stop was not having the pay the $75, but the principle of the whole thing. He was stopped for nothing, he believes, and feels that his skin color contributed to the stop if it was not the only factor in it. Harris takes the "Oh, well, Mr. Congressman, you have to go through the same system everyone else does," which is not Davis' issue at all. He also implicitly accuses him of grandstanding and making a private matter public. The fact that Davis was pulled over early Monday and the story was not reported on - at least on CNN - until today says something about Davis not overreacting and flinging accusations he had not thought through. I was just kind of confused with Harris' sarcasm and hostile attitude toward the congressman.

OK, sorry for that little tangent. Back to the traffic law "violated." It seems very obscure and a law that is typically used in rural or highway situations, not urban settings. This case - at least on its face - seems to have some of the factors of a racial profiling stop. Namely, a black guy driving (add points for black passengers!) and an obscure traffic law. Remember when a Rhode Island State Trooper pulled over a van of Guatemalan nationals and dragged them to INS when they did the unthinkable: not use their turn signal on the highway? Though I only have anecdotal evidence for the following statement (damnit Baldus get on this!), it appears that traffic stops in which the underlying reason for the stop is the race of the driver and/or passengers are "based" on obscure laws that people break all the time and cops could care less about, like not signalling to change lanes on a highway or driving left of center in a city (note that these are also judgement calls on the part of the officer; something that cannot be backed up by a radar gun, etc.). I suppose that we will have to wait for either the Chicago Police Department to release to police report or for Rep. Davis to go to traffic court to see if the whole "left of center" business holds any water. Until then, given what little evidence there is on the table, I'm leaning towards the Illinois Congressman on this one.

Photo: Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL, 7th District) (,


  1. As a 21 year old civilian, how do you know or purport to know what cops care about?

    Perhaps you would care about driving left of center if you'd ever been hit head on, ever been hit by a car driven by a drunk driver, or if you've ever seen what can happen to someone who has.

    Criminals and drunks drive cars. Once a car is stopped (for any vehicle code violation) it can be determined if the driver is either. If not, perhaps there would be "just a warning". But throw an attitude around (such as "you only pulled me over for DWB") then surely there will be a ticket.

    It's sad people will jump to the side of Davis without hearing one word from the officers themselves.

  2. To begin with, my assumptions on what cops care about comes from things I have seen while driving on the road and also working with police officers at a New York DA's office. I would hope that cops would care more about someone who is speeding or swerving all over the road than someone who does not signal.

    Secondly, this whole left of center business just does not seem like a law commonly enforced, especially in an urban setting such as Chicago. In city settings it is sometimes necessary to drive left of center due to double parking, etc.

    Talking to people in the Chicago area, many of them have not heard of this left of center statute before this story came out, again leading me to believe that this is not a commonly enforced law.

    Additionally, the police have decided to wait to issue a report on the incident, thus we do not have their side of the story. If the case is so cut and dry for no racial profiling, why wait months to tell one side of the story?

    We also do not know if Rep. Davis "threw around" the attitude of racial profiling on the scene, resulting in a ticket. It could be that Rep. Davis kept his mouth shut and completely obeyed the officer but still got a ticket.

    There is no doubt racial profiling exists, as states themselves have acknowledged it. I did not say that this was a clear case of racial profiling. I said it appears that it is and, based on what little evidence there is, I would side with Davis on this. If conclusive evidence comes out that there was no racial profiling, then I will amend the post. I'm not holding my breath on it, however.