When four plainclothes officers were monitoring traffic in late January, they say they saw 22-year-old Jawan Richards driving without a seat belt on. Moments later, Richards wound up with a bullet in his neck because he allegedly hit one of their car doors.
Court documents filed by police and obtained by the Baltimore Sun, say that the four officers were patrolling traffic in unmarked cars when Richards drove by in an SUV. When they tried to surround him with their vehicles, Hawkins drove in reverse and hit one of their doors. Two officers opened fire because the door hit one of the four, and a bullet pierced Richards’ neck.
Police say they searched Richards’ car at the scene and found an unlicensed firearm and several baggies of marijuana. After he spent a week in the hospital, Richards was thrown in jail on gun and traffic charges, without bail. No assault charges were filed against him.
The two firing officers are not traffic patrollers, but belong to a special unit that cracks down on people who are linked to drug activity.
Baltimore BLOC, a grassroots collective of local activists, has identified three other people shot in the head or neck since Freddie Gray died in police custody last year: Korey Minor, Dawan Hawkins, and Keith Davis Jr.
Normally, the office of State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby would investigate the shooting. But the Richards’ case has been passed along to Carroll County because one of Mosby’s assistants is in a relationship with one of the officers involved.
In general, black drivers are targeted for traffic stops at a higher rate than their white counterparts. The Bureau of Justice Statistics has concluded that, nationally, black people are searched, arrested, and ticketed more, during those stops.
According to the ACLU, however, pulling over a motorist for a seat belt violation is often a cover for racial profiling. Differences in black and white drivers’ seat belt-wearing don’t explain why non-white drivers are cited or arrested far more often for not wearing their seat belts. Recent studies have found that black motorists are three times more likely than white drivers to be arrested for seat belt violations in North Carolina and four times more likely to be ticketed for the offense in Florida.
That initial racial profiling escalates quickly. Latino drivers have been stopped and stripped of their vehicles after being targeted for not wearing a seat belt. Seat belt stops have also been used as an excuse to search vehicles for drugs.