Second teach-in on systemic racism turns to law enforcement and justice system disparities

The phrase “Driving while Black,” which refers to the disproportionate rate at which Black drivers are pulled over for traffic stops, was at the center of UVM’s second teach-in, a series dedicated to exploring, explaining and eradicating racism. Stephanie Seguino, a professor of economics, and Alec Ewald, a professor of political science, presented research and discussed how racialized policing, courts and the criminal justice system affect Blacks across America, including in Vermont. 

“It’s a long chain of causality, but really — significantly — it's the role of policing,” said Seguino, whose research explores the relationship between economic growth and development and inequalities by class, race and gender. She went on to present data from her 2017 book “Driving While Black and Brown in Vermont,” which demonstrated how in certain areas of Vermont, the percentage of Black drivers stopped by police is proportionate to three times the population of Black drivers on the road. 

“Traffic policing is the most frequent opportunity we have as members of the public to interact with the police,” she said of the significance of the data. But Seguino and Ewald clarified that traffic stops are just one point of entry for Blacks to enter the criminal justice system. For example, Seguino noted that Blacks and whites use drugs at the same rate, yet “Blacks go to jail at a rate six times higher. What features of the system lead to this?”

Ewald touched on the collateral consequences that minor offenses like traffic tickets and arrests — even those that don’t lead to conviction or incarceration — can have on life beyond the justice system. Housing, jobs, access to government assistance and financial burdens are just the tip of the iceberg. For convicted felons and incarcerated individuals, the consequences are more severe, including having voting rights revoked during probation in some states. 

According to his research, “one in nine African-American children, one in twenty-eight Latino children, and one in fifty-seven white children in the United States have an incarcerated parent.”

Following their presentations, Seguino and Ewald welcomed questions from audience members who inquired about how to begin making positive changes in policing policies and ways to remove barriers that criminal records create.


Missed the event? Watch the teach-in and save the date for the next teach-in July 1 at 12:00 p.m. on Microsoft Teams.