Police in Memphis will no longer be able to make pretextual traffic stops after city officials voted on April 11 to end them.
The Memphis City Council voted unanimously to pass the Driving Equality Act in Honor of Tyre Nichols, named after the 29-year-old black man who died in the hospital on Jan. 10, three days after a violent encounter with five Memphis police officers during a traffic stop.
Pretextual traffic stops allow police to pull vehicles over owing to minor traffic infractions in order to investigate more serious crimes. Such stops may lead to arrests for crimes such as drunk driving, drug possession, and other offenses that are unrelated to the initial reason for the stop.
Under the order, police in Memphis will no longer be able to pull drivers over solely for “secondary violations,” or low-level offenses such as temporary permit violations, improperly placed license plates, a single broken tail light, loosely secured bumpers, or having a temporary registration permit that is clearly displayed but improperly located.
Expired tags will also receive a 60-day grace period.
‘Justice in Policing’
However, police will still be allowed to make traffic stops for primary violations such as speeding or disobeying a stop signal. They will also be allowed to stop a driver for both a primary and secondary violation.
The ordinance is effective immediately.
Memphis is the sixth city in the country to pass such a measure, following in the footsteps of places like Berkeley and Los Angeles in California, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.
Councilwoman Michalyn Easter-Thomas, who sponsored the ordinance, released a statement following the vote, calling it “meaningful and impactful legislation” in the wake of Nichols’s death.
“Working with national networks that have implemented the Driver Equality Act helped ensure that this ordinance stays direct and also made sure that the ordinance was clear and enforceable,” Easter-Thomas wrote.
“This ordinance focuses on decreasing the unnecessary interactions between officers and the community as it pertains to traffic stops. It outlines items that should not warrant a traffic stop if seen primarily. This is about alleviating any additional weights on the impoverished. This is about diverting MPD resources to protecting our communities and fighting the crime in our streets. This is about justice in policing. This is about reform,” she added.
Civil Rights Groups Welcome New Rules
Elsewhere, the Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope welcomed the unanimous vote, noting in a statement that over the last 90 days they have “organized, rallied, and advocated for six ordinances to provide greater transparency and accountability for police practices.”
“We are proud to announce the community’s work has not been in vain. Yesterday, the Driving Equality Ordinance was PASSED,” the organization wrote.
“We are grateful for Decarcerate Memphis, Black Lives Matter, and other organizations who worked tirelessly to ensure Memphis has restorative justice measures in place … This is only the first step to true accountability and making lasting changes to our systems of public safety,” the statement continued.
Decarcerate Memphis also praised the move in a separate statement, calling the ordinance “meaningful and impactful legislation.”
Despite the win for advocacy groups, Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis, who has voiced her support for the ordinance, warned council members during Thursday’s meeting that state laws will still allow police officers to stop cars for secondary violations “if there is a situation that’s an outlier,” the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported.
Nichols was brutally beaten by city officers on the night of Jan. 7 after he was pulled over, allegedly for reckless driving, although no verified evidence of a traffic violation has been presented in video footage that was subsequently released or in public documents. Officers kicked and punched him multiple times after he attempted to escape.
Seven members of the Memphis Police Department have been fired following his fatal arrest.