Drivers, Beware: The Costly, Deadly Dangers Of Traffic Stops In The American Police State

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by John Whitehead via The Rutherford Institute,

“The Fourth Amendment was designed to stand between us and arbitrary governmental authority. For all practical purposes, that shield has been shattered, leaving our liberty and personal integrity subject to the whim of every cop on the beat, trooper on the highway and jail official. The framers would be appalled.”—Herman Schwartz, The Nation

Trying to predict the outcome of any encounter with the police is a bit like playing Russian roulette: most of the time you will emerge relatively unscathed, although decidedly poorer and less secure about your rights, but there’s always the chance that an encounter will turn deadly.

The odds weren’t in Walter L. Scott’s favor. Reportedly pulled over for a broken taillight, Scott—unarmed—ran away from the police officer, who pursued and shot him from behind, first with a Taser, then with a gun. Scott was struck five times, “three times in the back, once in the upper buttocks and once in the ear — with at least one bullet entering his heart.”

Samuel Dubose, also unarmed, was pulled over for a missing front license plate. He was reportedly shot in the head after a brief struggle in which his car began rolling forward.

Levar Jones was stopped for a seatbelt offense, just as he was getting out of his car to enter a convenience store. Directed to show his license, Jones leaned into his car to get his wallet, only to be shot four times by the “fearful” officer. Jones was also unarmed.

Bobby Canipe was pulled over for having an expired registration. When the 70-year-old reached into the back of his truck for his walking cane, the officer fired several shots at him, hitting him once in the abdomen.

Dontrell Stevens was stopped “for not bicycling properly.” The officer pursuing him “thought the way Stephens rode his bike was suspicious. He thought the way Stephens got off his bike was suspicious.” Four seconds later, sheriff’s deputy Adams Lin shot Stephens four times as he pulled out a black object from his waistband. The object was his cell phone. Stephens was unarmed.

If there is any lesson to be learned from these “routine” traffic stops, it is that drivers should beware.

At a time when police can do no wrong—at least in the eyes of the courts, police unions and politicians dependent on their votes—and a “fear” for officer safety is used to justify all manner of police misconduct, “we the people” are at a severe disadvantage.

According to the Justice Department, the most common reason for a citizen to come into contact with the police is being a driver in a traffic stop. On average, one in 10 Americans gets pulled over by police. Black drivers are 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers, or about 23 percent more likely than Hispanic drivers. As the Washington Post concludes, “‘Driving while black’ is, indeed, a measurable phenomenon.”

As Sandra Bland learned the hard way, the reason for a traffic stop no longer matters. Bland, who was pulled over for allegedly failing to use her turn signal, was arrested after refusing to comply with the police officer’s order to extinguish her cigarette and exit her vehicle. The encounter escalated, with the officer threatening to “light” Bland up with his taser. Three days later, Bland was found dead in her jail cell.

You’re doing all of this for a failure to signal?” Bland asked as she got out of her car, after having been yelled at and threatened repeatedly. Had she only known, drivers have been pulled over for far less. Indeed, police officers have been given free range to pull anyone over for a variety of reasons.

This approach to traffic stops (what I would call “blank check policing,” in which the police get to call all of the shots) has resulted in drivers being stopped for windows that are too heavily tinted, for driving too fast, driving too slow, failing to maintain speed, following too closely, improper lane changes, distracted driving, screeching a car’s tires, and leaving a parked car door open for too long.

Motorists can also be stopped by police for driving near a bar or on a road that has large amounts of drunk driving, driving a certain make of car (Mercedes, Grand Prix and Hummers are among the most ticketed vehicles), having anything dangling from the rearview mirror (air fresheners, handicap parking permits, troll transponders or rosaries), and displaying pro-police bumper stickers.

Incredibly, a federal appeals court actually ruled unanimously in 2014 that acne scars and driving with a stiff upright posture are reasonable grounds for being pulled over. More recently, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that driving a vehicle that has a couple air fresheners, rosaries and pro-police bumper stickers at 2 MPH over the speed limit is suspicious, meriting a traffic stop.

Unfortunately for drivers, not only have traffic stops become potentially deadly encounters, they have also turned into a profitable form of highway robbery for the police departments involved.

As The Washington Post reports, traffic stops for minor infractions such as speeding or equipment violations are increasingly used as a pretext for officers to seize cash from drivers.” Relying on federal and state asset forfeiture laws, police set up “stings” on public roads that enable them to stop drivers for a variety of so-called “suspicious” behavior, search their vehicles and seize anything of value that could be suspected of being connected to criminal activity. Since 2001, police have seized $2.5 billion from people who were not charged with a crime and without a warrant being issued.

“In case after case,” notes The Washington Post, “highway interdictors appeared to follow a similar script. Police set up what amounted to rolling checkpoints on busy highways and pulled over motorists for minor violations, such as following too closely or improper signaling. They quickly issued warnings or tickets. They studied drivers for signs of nervousness, including pulsing carotid arteries, clenched jaws and perspiration. They also looked for supposed ‘indicators’ of criminal activity, which can include such things as trash on the floor of a vehicle, abundant energy drinks or air fresheners hanging from rearview mirrors.”

If you’re starting to feel somewhat overwhelmed, intimidated and fearful for your life and your property, you should be. Never before have “we the people” been so seemingly defenseless in the face of police misconduct, lacking advocates in the courts and in the legislatures.

So how do you survive a police encounter with your life and wallet intact?

The courts have already given police the green light to pull anyone over for a variety of reasons. In an 8-1 ruling in Heien v. North Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that police officers can pull someone over based on a “reasonable” but mistaken belief about the law.

Of course, what’s reasonable to agents of the police state may be completely unreasonable to the populace. Nevertheless, the moment those lights start flashing and that siren goes off, we’re all in the same boat: we must pull over.

However, it’s what happens after you’ve been pulled over that’s critical. Survival is the key.

Technically, you have the right to remain silent (beyond the basic requirement to identify yourself and show your registration). You have the right to refuse to have your vehicle searched. You have the right to film your interaction with police. You have the right to ask to leave. You also have the right to resist an unlawful order such as a police officer directing you to extinguish your cigarette, put away your phone or stop recording them.

However, as Bland learned the hard way, there is a price for asserting one’s rights. “Faced with an authority figure unwilling to de-escalate the situation, Bland refused to be bullied or intimidated,” writes Boston Globe contributor Renee Graham. “She understood her rights, but for African-Americans in encounters with police, the appalling price for asserting even the most basic rights can be their lives.”

So if you don’t want to get probed, poked, pinched, tasered, tackled, searched, seized, stripped, manhandled, arrested, shot, or killed, don’t say, do or even suggest anything that even hints of noncompliance when it comes to interactions with police.

One police officer advised that if you feel as if you’re being treated unfairly, comply anyhow and contest it in court later. Similarly, black parents, advising their kids on how to deal with police, tell them to just obey the officer’s orders. “The goal,” as one parent pointed out, “is to stay alive.”

It seems that “comply or die” has become the new maxim for the American police state.

Then again, not even compliance is a guarantee of safety anymore. “Police are specialists in violence,” warns Kristian Williams, who has written extensively on the phenomenon of police militarization and brutality. “They are armed, trained, and authorized to use force. With varying degrees of subtlety, this colors their every action. Like the possibility of arrest, the threat of violence is implicit in every police encounter. Violence, as well as the law, is what they represent.”

In other words, in the American police state, “we the people” are at the mercy of law enforcement officers who have almost absolute discretion to decide who is a threat, what constitutes resistance, and how harshly they can deal with the citizens they were appointed to “serve and protect.”

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this mindset that any challenge to police authority is a threat that needs to be “neutralized” is a dangerous one that is part of a greater nationwide trend that sets the police beyond the reach of the Fourth Amendment. Moreover, when police officers are allowed to operate under the assumption that their word is law and that there is no room for any form of disagreement or even question, that serves to chill the First Amendment’s assurances of free speech, free assembly and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a casual “show your ID” request on a boardwalk, a stop-and-frisk search on a city street, or a traffic stop for speeding or just to check your insurance. If you feel like you can’t walk away from a police encounter of your own volition—and more often than not you can’t, especially when you’re being confronted by someone armed to the hilt with all manner of militarized weaponry and gear—then for all intents and purposes, you’re under arrest from the moment a cop stops you.

Sad, isn’t it, how quickly we have gone from a nation of laws—where the least among us had just as much right to be treated with dignity and respect as the next person (in principle, at least)—to a nation of law enforcers (revenue collectors with weapons) who treat us all like suspects and criminals?

Clearly, the language of freedom is no longer the common tongue spoken by the citizenry and their government. With the government having shifted into a language of force, “we the people” have been reduced to suspects in a surveillance state, criminals in a police state, and enemy combatants in a military empire.

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Helix6's picture

But no penalty for the cop acting like an idiot.

BlindMonkey's picture

I wish these cops were like Mexican ones. Hand them the license and a $20 and you have nothing to worry about.

847328_3527's picture
An American Dentist Killed Zimbabwe’s Famous Lion


Cecil the lion, a famous black-maned resident of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, died at the hands of an American dentist, conservationists claim.

jeff montanye's picture

Walter Palmer paid $50,000 to hunt and kill Cecil with a bow and arrow. The incident occurred around July 6, with a professional hunting outfit reportedly luring Cecil outside the boundaries of the protected reserve using a dead animal as bait.

i daresay walter palmer won't be having any problems with the police.  he has lots of money.

“Mr. Palmer shot Cecil with a bow and arrow but this shot didn't kill him,” Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said in a statement. “They tracked him down and found him 40 hours later when they shot him with a gun. Cecil, who was known all over the world would have earned millions of dollars just from sightseeing. Walter Palmer apparently paid $50,000 for the kill."

General Decline's picture

This lion killing is a pretty big non-story. A local story, at best.   Question:  What are they trying to distract the masses from now?

Surveyor4Pres's picture

That only works when the nation is corrupt from the bottom-up.

We live in a nation that is corrupt from the top-down.

A Nanny Moose's picture

My friend's wife just got a ticket from a red light camera-bot. $560!

kralizec's picture

Obviously, that camera-bot is racist, sexist and probably homophobic.

Bay Area Guy's picture

Most, if not all, of the red light camera tickets out this way got tossed by a judge.  It seemed that local cities had contracted wtih a company that installed the lights, and the payment was a cut of the ticket revenue.  Well, the company installing the cameras deliberately set them up to take pictures of license plates too early in the signal cycle.  People going through on the green light were still getting tickets because it raised the amount of revenue the camera comapny was getting.

Corrupt at every level.

migra's picture

On the street at that moment, yes dumbass, you better submit. When you go before the judge you can make your arguement there. Not on the side of the road.

NoWayJose's picture

If you are polite, don't have a big traffic violation record, and accept whatever goofy explanation the cop thinks you did wrong, you usually get a warning. Argue and you get a ticket. Worse, do not let the cop search you or your car if you have anything in it.

Gaius Frakkin' Baltar's picture

I questioned a cop (because I have a pair unlike most 'merican "men") and he buckled. He must have been a rookie, because he started stuttering and went back and looked at his camera, thought about it, or something. Got off with a "warning" for running a stop sign (I didn't run it) but I'm sure he was ready to write a ticket. At least he had the guts to know he was wrong and change the outcome I guess.

Oldwood's picture

I'm almost always guilty of something.

I do question the race statistics. Are we to assume that the crime stats for blacks are accurate, for if so, then it doesn't seem unreasonable that they would have a higher incidence of traffic stops. Unless they go Baltimore and just stop patrolling those areas.

Cops have always harassed people and ticketed for money. Its called intimidation.

What fun is it to have power if you can't abuse it?

i_call_you_my_base's picture

"Are we to assume that the crime stats for blacks are accurate, for if so, then it doesn't seem unreasonable that they would have a higher incidence of traffic stops."

It doesn't seem unreasonable to you that you get pulled over for your skin color? Fuck yeah, land of the free.

bill1102inf's picture

Crime stats for blacks ARE accurate and are disgusting. And thats just 'those who get caught!'. Think about that for a long, hard, minute! And btw, when a town is 98% 'non-white' and has a 90% crime rate with the criminal being black, its not racist, it is called Statistics. You would get that if you were smart enough, and not black.

zhandax's picture

OW, with all the bullshit laws put on the books, it is hard not to be guilty of 'something'.  A good cop will recognize the bullshit offenses.  And if he doesn't. a good judge will.  Unfortunately, both are becoming a rare occurrence.

Ban KKiller's picture

We are all niggers now. Look at low income whites living in trailer parks. Crime free? Ummm, not even close. 

Ace006's picture

Land of the black criminal, you mean.

Refuse-Resist's picture

I always notice that many black drivers, particularly black females, have no regard for speed limits whatsoever.

I don't know much but I know that PSL +10 is generally safe except at high risk hours (2 am etc).

for some reason I see black women driving in  the left lane at PSL 20+ all the time.  Doesn't matter which state.

As they roar past me, who's already hitting 10 over, I wonder "how many tickets does she have already" .

I've heard that truck drivers call the interstate loop around Atlanta the Watermelon 500.

Lots of black people driving real fast, or something.

Is that driving while black? IE going 20 over, running traffic lights, blocking the left lane when others want to pass, tailgating?

From where I'm sitting that's what it looks like and I am very observant when I'm outside the confines of my home.


General Decline's picture

My dad (a former truck driver) used to call the Dan Ryan (Chicago) "The Congolese 500"

large_wooden_badger's picture

As a white guy driving a pickup I can personally attest to the rudeness and velocity of angry black drivers. I feel like my very presence on the road seems to bring the worst out of them. To be fair, there are plenty of whites and asians out there that drive like complete shit, but the element of rage is missing.

Ban KKiller's picture

Women feel empowered in a car. White or black. Except Chinese women, they are sloooooow. 

Gaius Frakkin' Baltar's picture

It's more than just shakedown money. Many are itching for their first kill. It's like a right-of-passage in the ranks. My former neighbor, a cop from the town over, was off duty at home one night and heard over the radio a suspect was on foot running along the ditch behind our houses. He hid in his bushes with his gun, waiting for him to come by, apparently to shoot him if he got close. Anyway the uniformed police chasing the suspect saw him in the bushes and almost shot him instead... fucking pigs, that's all you can say

caustixoid's picture

I have frequent encounters with police in my job.  Most of them are decent people. 

In chats I kept hearing about a fellow officer, Constable Smith I'll call him, who had a black belt in something that he was just itching to use.  His M.O. was that he would keep needling people until they were so upset they'd take a swing at him, then he would go to town and beat the shit out of them with absolute impunity because he was "defending himself".  Apparently it made his job worth getting out of bed.

Some cops on any force are on a power trip - get pulled over by one of them and you can 'yes suh, no suh, sorry suh, thank you suh' all you want but if they want to fuck you up there ain't shit you can do about it (except hope that someone is recording it).   Package that with racism and you've got a predator that can easily pick out prey.  

zhandax's picture

I hope all the good ones are not gone.  I got clocked doing 75 in a 55 in WPB one Saturday trying to make a fishing trip.  This 6'4" cop gets out of a Mustang 5.0 and I told him I was trying to catch a boat and asked how fast he could write a ticket.  He was quick and got me there on time.  It may have helped that it was on my birthday.

Dubaibanker's picture

Just out of sheer curiosity.....Are you white?

zhandax's picture

White, and 6'2".  The 6'4" cop was black and the only thing I thought was "how the hell did that guy fit in that car?".

Dubaibanker's picture


Therein lies the answer.

The black cop did not want to get killed so he let you go! ;) ;) :) :)

Ace006's picture

Now those are some impressive analytical skills.

zhandax's picture

What did you expect dickhead, a psych profile?  This was a simple traffic stop that didn't interrupt my fishing trip enough to matter.  Believe  it or not, that is the way the constitution is written,,,

Ace006's picture

Wasn't directed at you, zhandax. In fact, I'm not sure why my comment ended up where it did.

Those Chinese hackers!

Abitdodgie's picture

Never sign your name on anything , because it is all contract law.

Ban KKiller's picture

Sure, sign! "Under duress" works perfectly! Pigs can't read so they never see it until too late. 

seek's picture

If only it were so easy. This happened just a couple weeks ago in a city nearby mine. The situation was so far over the line that the guy's own partner called his supervisor to squeal on him after the call.

Of course the usual outcome to the cop: no charges filed, he retired within the week and is now collecting his pension.

It's not just the people getting pulled over that can be stupid.

Ace006's picture

The lawyer's always a scumbag till you're in real trouble then people like you lick their boots.

meterman's picture

$100 - a lawyer? - You can't be a US citizen.

Mr. Frosty's picture

Police deal with armed, "thug-life" gangbanger "teens" on a regular basis. Don't wrestle with the cop and don't make sudden movements while reaching for small objects. I realise we shouldn't have militarized, trigger-happy cops to begin with, but we're a dying empire and TPTB are afraid of their subjects. Just survive until the economic collapse, pigs don't work for free.

22winmag's picture

Soliders, mercenaries, and armed guards don't work for free either.


Tick tock.

samsara's picture

Good constructive suggestions.

Mind your way clear of large unstable constructs...

cheech_wizard's picture

I'll add to that... keep your hands in plain sight, and tell the officer exactly what you are going to do in a clear voice before you do it.

The last cop that pulled me over looked like he must have been wearing 20 to 40 pounds of gear. Unbelievable.



zhandax's picture

I understand this recommendation has changed in the last few years, but we were always taught to get of of the car as soon as you stop and show that you do not have anything in your hands.  Don't hold your hands up, just angle your palms toward the cop; he will be watching them intently. It has gotten me out of more tickets than I have received.

cheech_wizard's picture

I did exactly that, got out of the car...(deja vu) I also pulled into a parking lot in front of a restaurant before stopping. (In my mind, witnesses)...what I said to him was "I didn't want to block the main thoroughfare." He added that I should not have gotten out of the car.

He pulled me over because my turn signal was out. Warning only, and on my way.


large_wooden_badger's picture

Unless you are inviting the cop to shoot you, NEVER GET OUT OF THE CAR!!!

Driver's window is down, left arm hanging out of it. Interior light is on, license/insurance/registration on the dash, right hand on the steering wheel. These simple actions demonstrate to the cop that you are not a threat and de-escalates the situation before it even starts. They might even take it as a sign of "respect", or something. Has worked for me several times.

If your wife/girlfriend is riding shotgun she is instructed to REMAIN ABSOLUTELY SILENT. The SILENT part is so important, nothing aggravates a simple stop more than two people talking at the cop at once. They have a hard time with that and you will get a ticket.

detached.amusement's picture


but I'm still tempted to say "yes officer, I have 7 grand in my car" just to videotape him violate my rights, get all pissed when he breaks the law and finds no money, and then sue him afterwards.

SmackDaddy's picture

If u feel this way, u should leave the nig infested, fag-run shit hole you're in. The cops where I live are great. And I'll be right beside them shooting when the fsa mobs try to overrun us

Jam's picture

Where do you live..Mayberry? Say hi to Barney for me.

SmackDaddy's picture

And just for the record, I''ve been arrested a dozen times, been in half dozen foot pursuits, and two car chases, and twice charged with assaulting a police officer

Then I grew up, started a family, stopped drinking and acting like an asshoke and then began to appreciate what it takes to keep a community safe.