Five years after Jeff Morris had his driver’s license suspended for speeding tickets he insist that police stopped him because he was black.
The West Side resident contends that police officers in “white” suburbs often stop black motorists for no reason.
“My daughter lives in Oak Lawn and four of the five speeding tickets I got were from Oak Lawn police. The speed limit is 35 (miles per hour) and when the officer stopped me he said I was going 45, when I know I was not above 40,” recalled Morris. “It does not matter what time of the day I went to see my baby girl, I would still get pulled over for no reason.”
Allegations of racial profiling by police departments is one reason why Gov. Pat Quinn said recently signed new legislation that prohibits municipalities from requiring police officers to meet ticket quotas.
“Law enforcement officers should have discretion on when and where to issue traffic citations and not be forced to ticket motorists to satisfy a quota system,” Quinn said. “This new law will improve safety and working conditions for police officers and prevent motorists from facing unnecessary anxiety when they encounter a police vehicle.”
But the law, which took effect immediately, comes too late for Morris who said the suspension is not set to end until February 2015.
“It’s been rough trying to see my daughter on the bus but at least I don’t have to worry about getting pulled over anymore,” Morris added.
Advocates contend that most black drivers stopped by police are young men.
“It’s no secret that police officers target our young black men hoping to catch them driving without a valid driver’s license or no proof or insurance,” said Harold Lucas, chief executive officer for the nonprofit Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Council on the South Side. “All this boils down to harassment if you ask me.”
Michael Reed, 24, said he is happy to see new legislation was finally passed to address what he described as the official ‘ticket quota.’
“Police officers may say there’s no ticket quota but as black folks we know better,” said Reed. “It is wrong the way they [police officers] do black folks. We might as well be back in slavery because that’s how we [blacks] feel sometimes when things like this [ticket quotas] seem to only affect us.”
Senate Bill 3411, was sponsored by state Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) and state Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea), which prohibits a county or municipality from comparing the number of citations issued by the law enforcement officer to the number of citations issued by any other law enforcement officer for purposes of job performance evaluation.
Manuel tickets should be a thing of the past, said Manar.
“With today’s technology, there are more effective ways to evaluate the performance of a police officer,” added Manar. “Using the number of citations is an outdated and ineffective evaluation tool. It doesn't lead to better policing, it doesn't lead to better use of taxpayer money and it doesn't lead to better relationships with the community.”
Terrell Berry, 25, is optimistic the new law would change anything.
“There’s always a way around things and if a police officer really wants to stop a driver, he will find a legal way to do it,” Berry said. “After all, it’s his word against the driver and if the driver is Black, it’s unlikely a judge would believe their side of the story.”
Hoffman said he understands why motorists like Berry are not convinced the new law would change anything.
“Arbitrary quotas on the number of tickets that have to be issued by police officers undermines the public trust in the police departments’ priorities,” explained Hoffman. “(But) by eliminating these quotas, we can restore that trust and ensure that police officers are free to do their job protecting the public.”