Can a Traffic Offense Be D.W.B. (Driving While Black)?

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In 1693, court officials in Philadelphia authorized the constables and citizens of the city to “take up” any Negro seen “gadding abroad” without a pass from his or her master. Of course, this judicial order to stop and imprison any Negro found on the street did not distinguish between free and enslaved blacks. In 1738, militiamen in colonial Virginia were given powers to arrest blacks whose presence excited suspicion and to detain any slave found off his master’s property without a pass.

Today, as part of the war on drugs, police officers across the nation have targeted black motorists in a manner reminiscent of the slave patrols employed in colonial America. In places as diverse as Volusia County, Fla., Woodbury, N.J., Eagle County, Colo., and along stretches of Interstate 95 in Maryland, evidence indicates that officers have targeted black motorists for traffic stops.

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