As an effort to address the tension between police and community members, Councilmember Isaiah Thomas’ Driving Equality bills were approved at Thursday’s City Council meeting. This approach seeks to redirect police time and resources towards keeping Philadelphians safe while removing negative interactions that widen the divide and perpetuate mistrust.
The initiative makes Philadelphia the first city in the country to pass a driver equality bill. With its approval police officers will be prohibited from pulling over drivers for low-level offenses like broken tail lights.
“I am grateful to my colleagues for voting to pass my Driving Equality bills,” said Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, “but moreso, I am humbled by every person who told my office of the humiliation and trauma experienced in some of these traffic stops.”
Yesterday, we passed #DrivingEquality, removing police from certain traffic stops.
— Councilmember Isaiah Thomas (@CMThomasPHL) October 15, 2021
A rite of passage
Thomas explained the frightening meaning that can be hidden behind the order to pull over. “To many people who look like me, a traffic stop is a rite of passage. We pick out cars, we determine routes, we plan our social interactions around the fact that it is likely that we will be pulled over by police.”
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According to the Councilmember, the approval of the Driving Equality bills would alleviate the stress of going through this “rite of passage.” “ With this vote, I breathe a sigh of relief that my sons and my friends’ children will grow up in a city where being pulled over is not a rite of passage but a measure of the safety of your driving and vehicle, regardless of the skin color of the driver.”
As reported by the Philadelphia Tribune, Thomas stated that 300,000 people are pulled over each year, and the overwhelming majority is people of color. Only 1% of these arrests result in the seizure of contraband or illegal weapons.
A great first step
“The Driving Equality Bill will look to put folks in a position whereas though when we look at how we enforce motor vehicle code violations in the city of Philadelphia,” Thomas said.
“Councilmember Isaiah Thomas’s bill, which aims to reduce the vast racial disparities in motor vehicle stops by police, is a great first step to building more trust between our police and communities of color,” said a statement released by the Defender Association of Philadelphia.
According to information gathered by the Philadelphia Defenders, the most frequently issued tickets are for missing lights, running stop signs, tint on the windows, inspection stickers, and making prohibited turns.