May 19, 2022

The outgoing GA issued a challenge to the discriminating police. Will his successor take care of it?


Mark Herring, the future former attorney general of Virginia, has thrown the gauntlet against police practices in the small town of Windsor.

The question is whether Jason Miyares, Herring’s successor, will take care of it – ensuring fair treatment of blacks, Latinos and other people of color during traffic checks by law enforcement. We’ll have to wait and see, based on Miyares’ evasive answer on the question.

More on that later.

You will recall that Windsor, which has only 2,600 inhabitants, was the scene of a nasty police stop videotaped in late 2020 involving Army Lieutenant Caron Nazario. The police department fired one of the two officers who detained Nazario, who is black and Latino – but not before the tape has been aired several times. (Nazario filed a lawsuit in Norfolk Federal Court against the officers. A jury trial is scheduled for March.)

Herring announced in mid-April an investigation into how Windsor police conduct roadside checks, including car and truck searches. His decision came days after the video was publicly released.

“Our months-long investigation revealed huge disparities in the enforcement of laws against African-American drivers and a disturbing lack of policies and procedures to prevent discriminatory or unconstitutional policing,” he said in a statement last week, announcing a lawsuit against the city. “We even found evidence that the officers were in fact trained to go ‘fishing’ and engage in pretext stops.”

The attorney general’s office said black motorists made up about 42% of Windsor Department traffic stops from July 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021 (810 out of 1,907 stops.) “During this period, the city stopped black drivers between 200% and 500% more often than one would expect based on the number of black residents in the city or the region. county. “

He also said the department searched more vehicles driven by black drivers than white drivers, even though black residents did not represent the majority of the population in Windsor or Virginia.

This particular discovery did not surprise me, from studies in California and elsewhere have had similar results.

The sentencing project reported in 2018, for example, that Black and Hispanic drivers were three times more likely than whites to be searched nationwide (6% and 7% vs. 2%, respectively), and blacks were twice as likely as whites to be stopped. “These patterns hold up even though police generally have a lower ‘smuggling success rate’ when looking for black drivers compared to white drivers,” the report notes.

Windsor officials did not take the conclusions supine. They issued their own statement, saying Windsor officers have always practiced non-discriminatory policing; “Increased training and accountability” after the Nazario incident became public; and met with the AG’s office no later than December 10 to discuss developments.

They sniffed that Herring’s action was “clearly political” as he neared the end of his term. The question “should have been left to the new Attorney General, if he had indeed merit in the first place, ”the statement said.

Joel Rubin, a city spokesperson, questioned Herring’s statistical analysis in an interview with me. He said investigators should have examined all motorists using the US 460 in the city, instead of just the population of Windsor. “In my opinion, this is wrong” the way the data was used, said Rubin.

Let’s evaluate these arguments.

Police officers in Windsor sprayed US Army Second Lieutenant Caron Nazario with pepper spray during a traffic stop in December that resulted in a trial, the dismissal of an officer and an outcry in Virginia and elsewhere. (CNB 12)

The fact that the ministry had to deal with the fallout after the Nazario incident means that city officials knew they had to change the procedure. Subsequent reports, by Ned Oliver of Virginia Mercury, The New York Times and others have indicated that some communities – like Windsor – rely too much on traffic fines to increase their budgets.

This practice pushes the police into the uncomfortable role of generating money to fund local operations. It’s a conflict of interest. The Times said officials in Windsor have since looked for ways to slow traffic “while reducing contact with police and citizens”, including using rough tapes.

Herring could have kept his mouth shut, but he launched the investigation and decided to file a complaint before the end of his sentence.

I’m sure before election day Herring thought he had more time. Miyares’ victory with 26,500 votes, out of more than 3.2 million votes cast statewide, likely changed the math.

That’s not to say Herring should have been silent. He had statistics and comments from affected residents. Many Virginians want to feel safe – not just targets for municipal coffers – when traveling to communities like Windsor. The situation is important regardless of who holds the title of attorney general.

“We have further investigations of the models / practices underway at this time, but we are not in a position to discuss them yet,” Michael K. Kelly, chief of staff in Herring’s office, said by email Wednesday. “We hope this lawsuit sends a clear signal to any agencies or jurisdictions that may act inappropriately that the GA office is monitoring and holding them accountable if necessary.”

He added: “We tried to resolve these issues with the city, but we could not accept their continued efforts to delay and drag this process out, so we filed a lawsuit to help protect the rights of Virginians. “

The complaint about race statistics is an interesting one. City officials wonder if the pool really only reflects local drivers; this is probably not the case, as the US 460 is not just a local road.

The numbers, however, could easily skew more white – rather than black or Latino – drivers crossing the roadway. Anyway, I don’t blame Herring’s office. He used the available baseline that he had racial origins from local and county residents.

In addition, what the GA office found has been replicated in other studies. The results are not that surprising.

A better question is why they are repeated so often.

This brings me to Miyares, a Republican, who takes office on January 15. Herring is a Democrat, and blacks and Latinos overwhelmingly vote for Democrats. Miyares has portrayed himself as a man of law and order, and Herring’s decision could put Miyares in a political stalemate.

This does not mean that Herring should have refrained from weighing. The problem he has been investigating is a serious one, and police checks have been a source of conflict between people of color and police across the country. A new state law gave the attorney general the power to press charges against agencies and stop systemic civil rights violations.

Victoria LaCivita, spokesperson for Miyares, told me that he reviews all cases handled by Herring. “We look forward to examining the facts and the law applicable to this prosecution once the elected attorney general takes office,” she said by email.

LaCivita declined to answer my other questions, about where these prosecutions fit on Miyares’ priority list, and how he will ensure black people, Latinos and others are treated fairly by the police.

These are important concerns. Herring was right to go ahead – even though his actions left others uncomfortable.

This column has been updated to include a comment from the Herring office.