Out June 30, 2018

Suspect Citizens: What 20 Million Traffic Stops Tell Us about Policing and Race - Frank R. Baumgartner, Derek A. Epp, Kelsey Shoub

Disclaimer: ARC via Cambridge University Press and Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.


                Recently, during a commute, I overheard a conversation between two men.  They were debating stop and frisk policies as well as road checkpoints/spot checks.  The first man, Adam let’s call him, said that he didn’t understand why people would be upset about a pat down or a road stop.  After all, if you didn’t do anything wrong, you have nothing to fear.  His companion, let’s call him Bert, responded with how many times he had been pulled over because he had been a young black male in a car that police believed should be out of his price range. Bert joined the army right after high school, he said, and could afford to drive such vehicles.  His fellow soldiers who were white did not get stopped.  Adam volleyed back with well, he had been profiled when he had been pulled over, and then was forced to admit that he had been speeding.


                Then I got off the train.  I’ll leave you to figure out which person was black and which white.


                Reading books like Suspect Citizens for people before having the above conversation with anyone.


                It should be noted that the work of Baumgarther, Epp, and Shoub focuses on one state, North Carolina, but considering what the presentation and analysis of the data prove that getting pulled over when “driving while black” is really a thing.  Not that everyone in the United States didn’t know this, but let’s be honest, odds are you know at least one person who says that it isn’t true.  The authors note that part of the reason for this book is so that people who are not black can approach dialogue about police and race with compassion and knowledge. 


                I find books like this difficult to rate.  It is a study.  There is a great deal of data being presented to the reader.  At times, such use of numbers can be dull, but the writers don’t present information dully.  Furthermore, connections are made to wide problems (like low voter turn our).  The book isn’t entirely negatively.  It also takes the time to go into great detail about the history of the law that triggered the correction of the data as including the full law in an appendix.  Attention is given to the history of pulling a car over and the difference between reasons for a driver being pulled over.


                There is something information about the pulling over of Hispanic and Native Americans, but the focus is on African Americans. 


                The book closes with some personal stories of those that have been pulled over.  The stories include various outcomes but are very powerful.


                Highly recommended.