Did you hear about the horrible racist stop of Juanisha Brooks? It was just a routine traffic stop in Virginia, with no one hurt, not even prosecuted, but still it made the New York Times because it proved systemic racism and people must know what happened.
Two troopers stopped Ms. Brooks, 34, around 2:21 a.m. after following her car past roughly two or three exits on the Capitol Beltway. According to a police report, her taillights were not turned on, she had twice followed “too close” to surrounding vehicles and she had failed to signal when changing lanes.
During the stop, Ms. Brooks said in an interview on Tuesday, the trooper who approached her did not tell her why she was being pulled over even though she asked repeatedly.
Outrageous, right, but it didn’t end there.
“Instead of letting me know why he stopped me, he immediately escalated the situation, and said, ‘How about you step out of the car, and I’ll show you,’ or something of that nature,” Ms. Brooks said.
Brooks thought she was doomed.
For Ms. Brooks, who said her phone was knocked out of her hand as she tried to record the stop, the episode was a too familiar scene she has watched play out before in other Black drivers’ encounters with the police.
“I thought about Philando Castile, I thought about Sandra Bland, and as soon as I was shoved against the car I just hoped and prayed that it wouldn’t be me,” Ms. Brooks said.
And when the Steve Descano, the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney, learned of this, all charges were dropped.
In a letter dated April 15 sent to the Virginia State Police’s Office of Internal Affairs, Steve T. Descano, the commonwealth’s attorney for Fairfax County, requested an investigation into the matter. He wrote that the traffic stop “was without proper legal basis,” citing a state law that went into effect on March 1 that makes it illegal for the police to pull over motorists for reasons including the smell of marijuana or a broken taillight.
“It’s sickening and unacceptable that any member of our community fears for their safety during a routine traffic stop,” Mr. Descano said in a statement. “That’s why I will not rest until we bring about the day when this is no longer the case.”
The outrageous treatment was caught on camera.
Dashboard camera footage shows one trooper, Robert G. Hindenlang, and an accompanying trainee following Ms. Brooks’s car on the highway. Trooper Hindenlang makes a remark about Ms. Brooks’s taillights and eventually turns on his patrol car’s emergency lights.
Ms. Brooks said in an interview that when Trooper Hindenlang initially tried to pull her over, she thought the emergency lights behind her were an ambulance, so she stopped on the highway shoulder and then drove off.
Video footage shows Trooper Hindenlang approaching Ms. Brooks’s car and asking for her license and registration, to which she replies, “Sure” and asks why she was stopped. Trooper Hindenlang asks her to step out of the car numerous times, then opens her door and grabs her out of the car, forcing her into handcuffs while pushing her against the vehicle.
As Brooks noted, the racism was palpable.
“At no point in the stop or during that time was I treated with the dignity and respect that every human being deserves,” Ms. Brooks said of her encounter with Trooper Hindenlang. “If I was a white woman, I believe he would have immediately let me know why he was pulling me over.”
So too was its impact on Brooks.
“I cried all day, and I said, ‘I can’t let someone else die from a pretextual stop,’” Ms. Brooks said.
And so all charges were dropped, Brooks was unharmed, and her story told in the paper of record. Except that the stop was lawful and the trooper is under no duty to inform a driver of the reason for the stop no matter how many times she asks. It wouldn’t have hurt for him to say so, as he was trying to walk her to the back of her car to see that her tail lights were out, but her assumption that the trooper would have told a white person but not her exists mostly in her head.
Having pulled over but left because she mistook a cruiser for an ambulance, the trooper had reason to be concerned. The trooper has the authority to order her out of the car, and he asked her repeatedly before using force to remove her, as the law permits.
And as is obvious to every lawyer here, there was absolutely nothing about this stop that was unusual, and nothing came of the stop that gave rise to it being made into a cause célèbre. Yet, here it is, a story about nothing from Virginia in the New York Times, by Allyson Walker, turning an entirely lawful, entirely appropriate, and entirely banal stop into a demonstration of outrageous police conduct.
There is outrageous police conduct going on out there. This ain’t it.
But to be fair, the rhetoric of the Descano, the Commonwealth’s Attorney, didn’t help matters. That someone suffers from unwarranted fear during a routine traffic stop happens, but that’s not the fault of the police who conduct the stop but the mindset of the person being stopped. There’s a good chance, given the emphasis shown the worst outlier cases, and with articles like this in the New York Times trying desperately to foster irrational fear and legal ignorance wherever possible, that more black people will suffer needless fear when stopped by police.
As a Defense Department employee, Ms. Brooks often thinks about what it means “to protect and defend” people, she said, but she realizes sometimes those protections are not afforded to everyone equally. The trooper she encountered, she said, “refused to protect” her.
This sort of pandering and propagating the wrongful and ignorant belief about what the law permits, and what people should expect, in encounters with police make it increasingly likely that people will make demands, refuse orders and resist lawful authority when a stop happens. The result of spreading these wrongheaded expectations, and fostering the belief that people have a right to resist, will be increased use of force, and more dead bodies. When people are made stupider, bad things will happen. Was that what you were trying to accomplish, Descano and Walker, more dead black people? That’s what garbage like this is going to produce.