By Benjamin Watson and Duron Harmon, Players Coalition Members & New England Patriots players
Traffic safety is not a game. We can save lives by tackling the problem of distracted driving. We can also improve lives and public safety by making sure policing on Massachusetts roads and highways is fair and evenhanded. Improving safety and equity should go hand in hand.
Multiple studies have shown racial disparities in traffic enforcement in the Commonwealth. And while research shows that Black and Latino motorists are significantly more likely to be stopped by police and have their vehicle searched, they are less likely to be cited for a violation or have contraband discovered in their vehicle.
Our celebrity as world class athletes does not make us immune from the experiences shared by many people of color in Massachusetts or the United States.
Benjamin: In 2009, my wife and I were driving on I-93 to Brigham and Women’s Hospital for the birth of our first child. A police officer stopped my Range Rover right after we entered the highway. I know for a fact that I wasn’t speeding, which leads to the question…why were we stopped? I remember how rudely he treated me and my wife, but at the time, I was more concerned about getting her to the hospital. It makes me wonder how we might have been described in a police report if the officer was required to record race data for the stop.
Existing law requires police to collect demographic data when drivers are issued tickets or warnings, but that’s not enough. They need to make sure the data they collect is complete, by collecting data on all traffic stops, and by generating consistent analytical reports to improve their performance.
Duron: I’ve been stopped multiple times. Once in Brockton, a police officer immediately pulled me over after I drove past him. As he approached my window, the officer questioned whose vehicle I was driving and why I was in the neighborhood. I told him my name and that I was on my way to get an MRI to ensure I was healthy to play. He basically apologized for stopping me, didn’t explain why I had been pulled over and said to have a good day. That was just two years ago.
We are grateful that both branches of the Massachusetts legislature have recently passed bills to tackle distracted driving due to cell phone use, and they’ve taken the opportunity to also highlight the need to ensure equity in enforcement. But don’t call out the duck boats just yet. To make our roads and highways safer for everyone, we need to collect race data for all motor vehicle stops.
As professional athletes, we don’t go into games blindly. We review and analyze the stats on our past play to make sure we are prepared to compete at the highest level. Using data to enhance performance is standard in sports and it should be standard for our government. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. It’s time for Massachusetts to step up its game and require the collection of race data for all motor vehicle stops.
Benjamin Watson and Duron Harmon are members of the Players Coalition, an independent 501c3 public charity and 501c4 advocacy group of pro athletes dedicated to impact racial and social inequality. For more information, visit www.players-coalition.org.