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Driving While Black,
Brentwood, Pennsylvania
October 12, 1995

Agencies: Unspecified

Last updated: 5 months ago

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The phrase "Driving While Black" has been used in both the public and private discourse relating to the Racial Profiling of Black motorists.  The term rose to prominence in public discourse during the 1990s, in the wake of the War on Drugs, when it was brought to public knowledge that police stations across the country were intentionally targeting racial minorities to curb the trafficking and sale of drugs in the U.S. For example, New Jersey released state documents in 2000 which showed police training memos instructing officers to make racial judgments in order to identify "Occupant Identifiers for a possible Drug Courier" on the highway.

The phrase was further magnified after the ruling of Whren v. United States (1996), when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that police officers may stop any motor vehicle operator if any traffic violation has been observed. The case has been criticized by scholars for allowing too much subjectivity on the part of police officers to use racial bias as a justification for the stop.

Subsequent media coverage of the phrase "Driving While Black" since the 1990s has been expansive and more common. The phrase is often used in anecdotal accounts of racial profiling of motor vehicle operators as well as statistical and legal analyses of racial profiling.

In 2014 Portland lawyers Melvin Oden-Orr and Marianne Hyland created an app named "Driving While Black" in which users can record police and alert people when they are stopped by police on the road. It also supplies users with information on how to handle a traffic stop, including their legal rights and "best practices" for "how to be safe."  The ACLU released a similar app called "Mobile Justice" in which users can record and upload videos to the ACLU office.

The phrase DWB was amplified in the scope of American public discourse through social media mediums in which African Americans can record police encounters and disseminate it to a large audience. 'Driving While Black' was invoked in the media following the recent deaths of Philando Castile and Sandra Bland, both of whom were African Americans who were pulled over by police while driving.

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