Race and Petty Traffic Laws

When you hear that police pulled someone over for the totally BS charge of a "partially obscured license plate with only one light," can't you just assume the driver is probably black or Hispanic?

If I were a Mexican in Phoenix, I would do a full walk-around checking my vehicle before every trip.  A visiting friend once asked me if the fact that Hispanics all seem to drive so slow was a cultural thing and I said that more likely, they know they will get busted for going even a hair over the speed limit.

A few years ago I wrote vis a vis our infamous SB1070

When Kris Kobach says "In four different sections, the law [SB1070] reiterates that a law-enforcement official 'may not consider race, color, or national origin' in making any stops or determining an alien's immigration status," he is ignoring reality.  The law asks police to make a determination (e.g. probable cause that one is an illegal immigrant) that is impossible for actual human beings to make without such profiling.  It's like passing a law that says "police must drive their cars 30 miles a day but can't drive their cars to do so."  The reality on the ground here in Arizona is that, illegal or not, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been using racial profiling to make arrest sweeps for years, and his officers have become masters at finding some pretext to pull over a Mexican they want to check out  (e.g. the broken tail light).   Words in this law about racial profiling are not going to change anything.

Update:  I forgot this story from 2008, which is a great example of what I am talking about here

Arrest records from crime sweeps conducted by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office add substantial weight to claims that deputies usedracial profiling to pull Latino motorists over to search for illegal immigrants....

even when the patrols were held in mostly White areas such as Fountain Hills and Cave Creek, deputies arrested more Latinos than non-Latinos, the records show. In fact, deputies arrested among the highest percentage of Latinos when patrols were conducted in mostly White areas.

On the arrest records, deputies frequently cited minor traffic violations such as cracked windshields and non-working taillights as the reason to stop drivers.

"These are penny-ante offenses that (police) almost always ignore. This is telling you this is being used to get at something else, and I think that something else is immigration enforcement against Hispanic people," Harris said....


  1. vikingvista:

    Why are Arizona officials so vicious against Mexicans, while in Texas we see very little of that. How can illegal immigration be such a dangerous problem in AZ but not TX? Anyone know what the sentiment is like in New Mexico? It seems unlikely culture varies much from state to state. I suspect it is political.

  2. Greg Spencer:

    When I was a Lieutenant in the Army, we kept out Soldier DUI numbers down by doing constant vehicle inspections, because local cops used broken taillights, etc as an excuse to pull over people and check for DUI.

  3. Matthew Slyfield:

    "It seems unlikely culture varies much from state to state. I suspect it is political"

    This is dead flat wrong. Culture varies a good deal from state to state. In the case of Texas, they had a high percentage of people with Mexican ancestry when they were and independent nation before joining the US.

    Check this out: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2013/11/08/which-of-the-11-american-nations-do-you-live-in/

  4. vikingvista:

    "This is dead flat wrong."

    Every once and while I am surprised at an issue someone has an emotional attachment to.

    " In the case of Texas, they had a high percentage of people with Mexican ancestry"

    Arizona did not?

    "Check this out"

    Thank you for the link. Interesting read. Let me rephrase in the context of that article: What significant cultural variation could there be between El Norte, AZ and El Norte, TX to explain why AZ natives are so hostile to Mexican migrants while TX natives are not?

    From a personal perspective, I have lived for long periods of time in the cold winter North, Southeast, and Texas, and have worked for years in central and South Arizona. While people in the Southeast tend to be more charming to strangers, and people in the North tend to be crazy left-wingers, aside from mild culinary and climate differences, the cultures everywhere I've lived have been pretty much the same. That's why I suspect the great difference in how Mexicans are treated is due more to politics than culture.

  5. Matthew Slyfield:

    "Arizona did not?"

    You left off a rather important part of my sentence,

    " In the case of Texas, they had a high percentage of people with Mexican
    ancestry when they were and independent nation before joining the US."

    When was Arizona an independent nation with European settlers?

  6. vikingvista:

    Why is that important?

  7. Matthew Slyfield:

    Because that part of Texas history shaped Texan identity in very significant ways that still persist today.

  8. obloodyhell:

    }}} I think that something else is immigration enforcement against Hispanic people


    You mean that... that.... they're actually guessing that MOST of the illegal immigrants in Arizona are... Mexican looking?

    Wow, that make no sense at all.

    None. Zip. Nada.

    I mean, the TSA checks grandmothers and four year old Irish redheads for terrorist goods, and they have a MUCH better success rate using race-neutral efforts like those!!

  9. obloodyhell:

    Arizona was formerly part of MEXICO, you might recall.

  10. Matthew Slyfield:

    So was Texas. Texas was also an independent nation in it's own right for a while. Arizona was not.

  11. vikingvista:

    That doesn't explain why Arizonans are more malicious toward Mexicans than Texans. If anything, given the history of Texas-Mexico conflict, you'd expect the opposite to be the case.

    Can you explain what you mean?

  12. Matthew Slyfield:

    Because the Texas war for independence from Mexico was fought from the beginning by a mix of Mexican nationals and more recent white settlers migrating west out of the United States. It was never purely whites vs the Mexican army.

    I am not sure why Arizonans are so malicious towards Mexicans, but the attitude of Texans towards Mexico and Mexicans is more complicated, more nuanced, it always has been.

  13. David in Michigan:

    "...Arizonans are so malicious towards Mexicans..." Where are you getting that from? I don't believe that our host said that, as he was on his typical rant about the E..V..V..I..L Sheriff Arpaio, not the people of Arizona..... which is in fact about 31% "hispanic" (that's nearly 1 in 3 for the arithmetically challenged).

    Texas was a vast and largely EMPTY place in (I think) 1845 when it became a state following a short war with Mexico. Sure, there were Mexicans that stayed and became U.S. citizens.... all of maybe 5,000 of them. But today Texas is filled with 26 million people, a large percentage of them who came from other states especially in the 1980s. Whatever the composition of Texas was in 1845 it certainly is not the same as it is in 2015.

    Border cities like El Paso, Brownsville, Laredo, Eagle Pass, etc have a large, and probably a majority population of people of Mexican descent. In fact, I'll wager that EVERY city/town along the ENTIRE Mexican border has a majority (or nearly so) population of Mexican descent, including Arizona. In some of these towns (e.g., Calexco, CA), you better be able to speak Spanish if you want to get along.

  14. vikingvista:

    If I understand you correctly, you think the border states all suffered a clash of cultures with Mexico, but in Texas this was mitigated by a kind of band-of-brothers congealing due to the war with Mexico. You presumably think the resulting cultural attitudes somehow continue to this day.

    It is an interesting idea. There may be some truth to it. Perhaps the reason I haven't seen it in my travels is just vagabond myopia.

  15. vikingvista:

    "Where are you getting that from?"

    Arpaio, who has a substantial following, is just part of it. The nativist rhetoric has been pretty hostile for several years now, but the hostility is considerably less in TX than in AZ or CA. Another example is Gov. Perry's decision to grant in-state tuition to the kids of undocumented aliens. It wasn't particularly controversial in TX (any more than any socialist expansion is), but it killed his 1st and probably 2nd presidential run. And the conservative talk radio in AZ about migrants is considerably different than in TX. Both Perry and Cruz sound 180 degrees different on immigration running for President than they did when just local.

    "Whatever the composition of Texas was in 1845 it certainly is not the same as it is in 2015."

    I think that's true. I doubt centuries-old sentiments have much effect today. But I could be wrong. Something accounts for the difference.

  16. Matthew Slyfield:

    1. It is the most significant historical difference between Texas and it's neighboring states particularly as to their relationship with Mexico.

    2. There are certainly other cultural differences between Texas and it's neighbors that persist.

    Obviously, I can't know for sure if this is the cause of the difference in attitude towards Mexicans that you noted, but to me it seems to be the most likely factor.

  17. Matthew Slyfield:

    Sheriff Arpiao is a good proxy, at least for the attitudes of the people of Maricopa County as they know what he is like and yet the keep re-electing him.

  18. Matthew Slyfield:

    You have the year it became a US State correct, but it did not become a state immediately after it's war for independence from Mexico. Texas gained independence in 1836, so it was an independent nation for 9 years.

  19. Mark Dietzler:

    I always get a kick out of people complaining about bias when it comes to who cops pull over. If my experience on the job told me that a certain demographic got me felony arrests more often than another, you betcha I would pull over that demographic more often that others.
    This is why the lunacy of not scrutinizing muslim looking men between the ages of 15-35 more at airports is outright lunacy, that is the demographic most likely to be the threat. All one has to do is look at the last 1400 years of history to know that.

  20. marque2:

    In CA if you break the law and the police find out you are illegal, they let you go. Impounding cars for lack of registration payments, giving traffic citations, drug busts are all racist. If you are a cited as a citizen, you get everything thrown at you - hard to make quotas when you have to let a 1/3 of folk go off Scott free.

    What silliness. We aren't a libertarian state, we are a welfare state, and as such we can't afford.to have illegals in this country. You are lucky to live in Phoenix where laws are still enforced equally.