Skip to Main

April 6, 2023

Pressley, Johnson Lead Black Lawmakers Urging Buttigieg, DOT to Address Racial Disparities in Traffic Enforcement

Black drivers experience disproportionate scrutiny and excessive force under guise of traffic enforcement

“Driving while Black may not be a real crime codified in law, but it is treated as one throughout the country.”

Text of Letter (PDF)

BOSTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Congressman Hank Johnson (GA-04) led 25 of their colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus in calling on Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), to condemn the unjust and discriminatory status quo of traffic enforcement and develop reforms to reduce racial inequities in traffic stops.

“Generations of Black people have been unjustly subjected to biased traffic enforcement and police interaction. While driving laws have been enacted at every level of government to safeguard the public, officers selectively enforce these laws to the detriment of Black drivers,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Secretary Buttigieg.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the United States Department of Justice, more than 20 million people are pulled over for traffic violations every year and Black motorists are overrepresented compared to their white counterparts. This disparity is even more alarming considering Black people are less likely to have access to a vehicle.

In 2022, police killed more than 175 people after initially stopping them for a traffic violation. Non-fatal injuries following traffic stops are more common but routinely underreported due to the lack of comprehensive data collection and proper oversight and accountability.

The letter to Secretary Buttigieg highlights the disparate harm traffic enforcement has on Black motorists and calls on the DOT to recognize the social context of traffic enforcement disparities and identify solutions to redress the harms. The lawmakers urged DOT to evaluate public campaigns and grants designed to incentivize, expand, and embed policing in traffic safety; ensure federal funds do not contribute to racist enforcement; and recognize that brutality during traffic enforcement is itself a threat to highway safety, among other things.

“Traffic safety should not come at the expense of the dignity and safety of the Black community,” the lawmakers continued. “The status quo of inequitable traffic enforcement is the product of racist policies, outdated infrastructure, and limited oversight. We urge the Department of Transportation to condemn harmful enforcement practices and develop reforms that support the wellbeing of Black people traveling on our nation’s roads and highways.”

Joining Reps. Pressley and Johnson in sending the letter are Reps. Donald M. Payne (NJ-10), Bennie G. Thompson (MS-02), André Carson (IN-07), Terri A. Sewell (AL-07), Cori Bush (MO-01), Frederica S. Wilson (FL-24), Alma S. Adams (NC-12), Joyce Beatty (OH-03), Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE-AL), James E. Clyburn (SC-06), Jasmine Crockett (TX-30), Dwight Evans (PA-03), Al Green (TX-09), Glenn Ivey (MD-04), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Jonathan L. Jackson (IL-01), Robin Kelly (IL-02), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (CA-37), Barbara Lee (CA-12), Summer Lee (PA-12), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Valerie Foushee (NC-04).

A copy of the letter is available here.

In 2019, Rep. Pressley introduced the People’s Justice Guarantee, her bold, progressive criminal justice reform resolution which calls for a radical transformation of the criminal legal system to center the dignity and humanity of all people.

Throughout her time in Congress, Rep. Pressley has championed legislation to reform an unjust criminal legal system and address police brutality and systemic racism.

  • In July 2022, Congresswoman Pressley, Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Congressman Henry C. “Hank” Johnson (GA-04) led 19 of their colleagues in a letter urging the Biden Administration to end the transfer of military weapons to local law enforcement through administrative action.
  • In September 2021, Rep. Pressley re-introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to halt the Department of Defense’s 1033 program, which allows for the transfer of military equipment to federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement. She previously introduced the amendment in 2021.
  • In May 2021, Reps. Pressley and Cori Bush (MO-01)led a group of progressives in sending a letter to House and Senate leadership, urging them to maintain and strengthen the provision to eliminate qualified immunity as negotiations for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act continue.
  • In December 2020, Rep. Pressley called on passage of police reform legislation by the Massachusetts state lawmakers. In an op-ed published in the Boston Globe, Congresswoman Pressley and Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo called on lawmakers to end qualified immunity.
  • In August 2020, Congresswoman Pressley and Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo authored an op-ed in the Boston Globe in which they called on state lawmakers to end the unjust court-invented doctrine of qualified immunity.
  • In June 2020, Reps. Pressley and Justin Amash (L-MI) introduced the Ending Qualified Immunity Act following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement.
  • In May 2020, Rep. Pressley, along with Reps. Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Karen Bass (CA-37), then-Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13), introduced a resolution to condemn police brutality, racial profiling and the excessive use of force.