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Drivers Beware: The Deadly Perils of Blank Check Traffic Stops

John W. Whitehead & Nisha Whitehead
May 28th, 2021
The Rutherford Institute
Comments (15)

This article was originally published by John W. Whitehead and Nisha Whitehead at The Rutherford Institute.

“The Fourth Amendment was designed to stand between us and arbitrary governmental authority. For all practical purposes, that shield has been shattered, leaving our liberty and personal integrity subject to the whim of every cop on the beat, trooper on the highway and jail official. The framers would be appalled.”—Herman Schwartz, The Nation

We’ve all been there before.

You’re driving along and you see a pair of flashing blue lights in your rearview mirror. Whether or not you’ve done anything wrong, you get a sinking feeling in your stomach.

You’ve read enough news stories, seen enough headlines, and lived in the American police state long enough to be anxious about any encounter with a cop that takes place on the side of the road.

For better or worse, from the moment you’re pulled over, you’re at the mercy of law enforcement officers who have almost absolute discretion to decide who is a threat, what constitutes resistance, and how harshly they can deal with the citizens they were appointed to “serve and protect.”

This is what I call “blank check policing,” in which the police get to call all of the shots.

So if you’re nervous about traffic stops, you have every reason to be.

Trying to predict the outcome of any encounter with the police is a bit like playing Russian roulette: most of the time you will emerge relatively unscathed, although decidedly poorer and less secure about your rights, but there’s always the chance that an encounter will turn deadly.

Try to assert your right to merely ask a question during a traffic stop and see how far it gets you.

Juanisha Brooks—black, 34 years old, and on her way home at 2:20 am—was pulled over, handcuffed, arrested, and charged with resisting arrest, eluding the police, reckless driving, and failure to use headlights after repeatedly asking police why she had been stopped. When Brooks—a Department of Defense employee—filed a complaint, prosecutors conceded that the traffic stop had been carried out without “proper legal basis” and dropped all charges.

Caron Nazario, a uniformed Army officer returning home from his duty station, was stopped for not having a rear license plate (his temporary plates were taped to the rear window of his new SUV). Nazario, who is Black and Latino, pulled over at a well-lit gas station only to be pepper-sprayed, held at gunpoint, beaten, and threatened with execution.

Zachary Noel was tasered by police and charged with resisting arrest after he questioned why he was being ordered out of his truck during a traffic stop. “Because I’m telling you to,” the officer replied before repeating his order for Noel to get out of the vehicle and then, without warning, shooting him with a taser through the open window.

Despite complying with all police orders when ordered to show his identification and exit his parked vehicle, Jeriel Edwards was subjected to excessive force and brutality, including being thrown to the ground, tasered, and placed in a chokehold that rendered him unconscious and required his hospitalization for three days. Although dashcam video of the arrest confirms that Edwards was peaceful, did not defy police orders, and did nothing to provoke police, a federal court ruled that Edwards’ trouble understanding police directions during the encounter constituted “resistance” that justified the force used by the four police officers involved in the violent arrest. Edwards is African-American.

Gregory Tucker, also black, was stopped by police for a broken taillight, only to be thrown to the ground, beaten and punched in the face and body more than 20 times, then arrested and hospitalized for severe injuries to his face and arm, all for allegedly “resisting arrest” by driving to a safe, well-lit area in front of his cousin’s house before stopping.

No wonder Americans are afraid of getting pulled over by police.

Mind you, all of these individuals complied with the police. They just didn’t do it fast enough to suit their purposes.

At a time when police can do no wrong—at least in the eyes of the courts, police unions and politicians dependent on their votes—and a “fear” for officer safety is used to justify all manner of police misconduct, “we the people” are at a severe disadvantage.

Add a traffic stop to the mix, and that disadvantage increases dramatically.

According to the Justice Department, the most common reason for a citizen to come into contact with the police is being a driver in a traffic stop.

On average, one in 10 Americans gets pulled over by police.

According to data collected under Virginia’s new Community Policing Act, black drivers are almost two times more likely than white drivers to be pulled over by police and three times more likely to have their vehicles searched. As the Washington Post concludes, “‘Driving while black’ is, indeed, a measurable phenomenon.”

Historically, police officers have been given free range to pull anyone over for a variety of reasons.

This free-handed approach to traffic stops has resulted in drivers being stopped for windows that are too heavily tinted, for driving too fast, driving too slow, failing to maintain speed, following too closely, improper lane changes, distracted driving, screeching a car’s tires, and leaving a parked car door open for too long.

Motorists can also be stopped by police for driving near a bar or on a road that has large amounts of drunk driving, driving a certain make of car (Mercedes, Grand Prix, and Hummers are among the most ticketed vehicles), having anything dangling from the rearview mirror (air fresheners, handicap parking permits, toll transponders or rosaries), and displaying pro-police bumper stickers.

Incredibly, a federal appeals court actually ruled unanimously in 2014 that acne scars and driving with a stiff upright posture are reasonable grounds for being pulled over. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that driving a vehicle that has a couple air fresheners, rosaries, and pro-police bumper stickers at 2 MPH over the speed limit is suspicious, meriting a traffic stop.

Equally appalling, in Heien v. North Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court—which has largely paved the way for the police and other government agents to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip, and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance—allowed police officers to stop drivers who appear nervous, provided they provide a palatable pretext for doing so.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the lone objector in the case. Dissenting in Heien, Sotomayor warned, “Giving officers license to effect seizures so long as they can attach to their reasonable view of the facts some reasonable legal interpretation (or misinterpretation) that suggests a law has been violated significantly expands this authority… One wonders how a citizen seeking to be law-abiding and to structure his or her behavior to avoid these invasive, frightening, and humiliating encounters could do so.”

In other words, drivers beware.

Traffic stops aren’t just dangerous. They can be downright deadly.

Remember Walter L. Scott? Reportedly pulled over for a broken taillight, Scott—unarmed—ran away from the police officer, who pursued and shot him from behind, first with a Taser, then with a gun. Scott was struck five times, “three times in the back, once in the upper buttocks and once in the ear — with at least one bullet entering his heart.”

Samuel Dubose, also unarmed, was pulled over for a missing front license plate. He was reportedly shot in the head after a brief struggle in which his car began rolling forward.

Levar Jones was stopped for a seatbelt offense, just as he was getting out of his car to enter a convenience store. Directed to show his license, Jones leaned into his car to get his wallet, only to be shot four times by the “fearful” officer. Jones was also unarmed.

Bobby Canipe was pulled over for having an expired registration. When the 70-year-old reached into the back of his truck for his walking cane, the officer fired several shots at him, hitting him once in the abdomen.

Dontrell Stevens was stopped “for not bicycling properly.” The officer pursuing him “thought the way Stephens rode his bike was suspicious. He thought the way Stephens got off his bike was suspicious.” Four seconds later, sheriff’s deputy Adams Lin shot Stephens four times as he pulled out a black object from his waistband. The object was his cell phone. Stephens was unarmed.

Sandra Bland, pulled over for allegedly failing to use her turn signal, was arrested after refusing to comply with the police officer’s order to extinguish her cigarette and exit her vehicle. The encounter escalated, with the officer threatening to “light” Bland up with his taser. Three days later, Bland was found dead in her jail cell. “You’re doing all of this for a failure to signal?” Bland asked as she got out of her car, after having been yelled at and threatened repeatedly.

Keep in mind, from the moment those lights start flashing and that siren goes off, we’re all in the same boat. However, it’s what happens after you’ve been pulled over that’s critical.

Survival is key.

Technically, you have the right to remain silent (beyond the basic requirement to identify yourself and show your registration). You have the right to refuse to have your vehicle searched. You have the right to film your interaction with police. You have the right to ask to leave. You also have the right to resist an unlawful order such as a police officer directing you to extinguish your cigarette, put away your phone or stop recording them.

However, there is a price for asserting one’s rights. That price grows more costly with every passing day.

If you ask cops and their enablers what Americans should do to stay alive during encounters with police, they will tell you to comply, cooperate, obey, not resist, not argue, not make threatening gestures or statements, avoid sudden movements, and submit to a search of their person and belongings.

Unfortunately, there are no longer any fail-safe rules of engagement for interacting with the police.

In the American police state, compliance is no guarantee that you will survive an encounter with the police with your life and liberties intact.

Every day we hear about situations in which unarmed Americans complied and still died during an encounter with the police simply because they appeared to be standing in a “shooting stance” or held a cell phone or a garden hose or carried around a baseball bat or answered the front door or held a spoon in a threatening manner or ran in an aggressive manner holding a tree branch or wandered around naked or hunched over in a defensive posture or made the mistake of wearing the same clothes as a carjacking suspect (dark pants and a basketball jersey) or dared to leave an area at the same time that a police officer showed up or had a car break down by the side of the road or were deaf or homeless or old.

More often than not, it seems as if all you have to do to be shot and killed by police is stand a certain way, or move a certain way, or hold something—anything—that police could misinterpret to be a gun or ignite some trigger-centric fear in a police officer’s mind that has nothing to do with an actual threat to their safety.

Now you can make all kinds of excuses to justify these shootings, and in fact, that’s exactly what you’ll hear from politicians, police unions, law enforcement officials, and individuals who are more than happy to march in lockstep with the police.

However, to suggest that a good citizen is a compliant citizen and that obedience will save us from the police state is not only recklessly irresponsible but it is also deluded and out of touch with reality.

To begin with, and most importantly, Americans need to know their rights when it comes to interactions with the police, bearing in mind that many law enforcement officials are largely ignorant of the law themselves.

A good resource is The Rutherford Institute’s “Constitutional Q&A: Rules of Engagement for Interacting with Police.”

In a nutshell, the following are your basic rights when it comes to interactions with the police as outlined in the Bill of Rights:

You have the right under the First Amendment to ask questions and express yourself. You have the right under the Fourth Amendment to not have your person or your property searched by police or any government agent unless they have a search warrant authorizing them to do so.  You have the right under the Fifth Amendment to remain silent, to not incriminate yourself and to request an attorney. Depending on which state you live in and whether your encounter with police is consensual as opposed to your being temporarily detained or arrested, you may have the right to refuse to identify yourself. Not all states require citizens to show their ID to an officer (although drivers in all states must do so).

As a rule of thumb, you should always be sure to clarify in any police encounter whether or not you are being detained, i.e., whether you have the right to walk away. That holds true whether it’s a casual “show your ID” request on a boardwalk, a stop-and-frisk search on a city street, or a traffic stop for speeding or just to check your insurance. If you feel like you can’t walk away from a police encounter of your own volition—and more often than not you can’t, especially when you’re being confronted by someone armed to the hilt with all manner of militarized weaponry and gear—then for all intents and purposes, you’re essentially under arrest from the moment a cop stops you. Still, it doesn’t hurt to clarify that distinction.

While technology is always going to be a double-edged sword, with the gadgets that are the most useful to us in our daily lives—GPS devices, cell phones, the internet—being the very tools used by the government to track us, monitor our activities, and generally spy on us, cell phones are particularly useful for recording encounters with the police and have proven to be increasingly powerful reminders to police that they are not all-powerful.

Knowing your rights is only part of the battle, unfortunately.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the hard part comes in when you have to exercise those rights in order to hold government officials accountable to respecting those rights.

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    Author: John W. Whitehead & Nisha Whitehead
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    Date: May 28th, 2021
    Website: https://www.rutherford.org/

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    15 Comments...

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    1. Anonymous says:

      Mac,. Shiftfrequency.com

    2. Darth Skippy says:

      One time, the stress dog bit all over the Hispanic, rookie policeman, and his car smelt of feces (not dog).

      Another time, I warned the Hispanic police that my my jogging backpack was full of weights. I offer to hand it to him, or lower it to the ground, respectfully. One complains that it almost breaks his toes. Lowrider bicyclists, allowed to pass, have lit a fire behind the Hispanic police with illegal fireworks.

      One negro motorcycle cop was in deep concentration, somewhat hiding behind a blind corner, with his radar gun. I clear my throat, multiple times, trying not to sneak up, on him…

      I was once sat on a curb, when nearly a dozen had their guns drawn, expecting to break up a big fight. I swear, every single last one had his own sidearm pointed at some part of his body…

      You are highly accident prone and don’t look like moral authorities, to conservative WASP’s, either.

    3. Brad Fallon says:

      Ah, you must be living in America past. America today (2021) has no rule of law and the Constitution has no meaning. Until the 3%’s decide to re-instate, we live in a dystopian neverworld, anything can happen.

    4. Jack Schumacher says:

      Although everything you say is spot on, you failed to identify the root cause of the problem, which is, lack of training, or inappropriate training of our street, and road patrollers. While great importance is placed on LE ability to follow orders. Zero importance, or training is given in how to give orders, and what orders are legal. Those that order LE to make stops to fund the towns budget should be rode out of town on a rail!

    5. DESPITE ACTIONS OF POLICE AND LOCAL COURTS, HIGHER COURTS HAVE RULED THAT AMERICAN CITIZENS HAVE A RIGHT TO TRAVEL WITHOUT STATE PERMITS By Jack McLamb (from Aid & Abet Newsletter)

      As hard as it is for those of us in law enforcement to believe, there is no room for speculation in these court decisions. American citizens do indeed have the inalienable right to use the roadways unrestricted in any manner as long as they are not damaging or violating property or rights of others. Government — in requiring the people to obtain drivers licenses, and accepting vehicle inspections and DUI/DWI roadblocks without question — is restricting, and therefore violating, the people’s common law right to travel.

      “The use of the highway for the purpose of travel and transportation is not a mere privilege, but a common fundamental right of which the public and individuals cannot rightfully be deprived.” Chicago Motor Coach v. Chicago, 169 NE 221

      “The right of the citizen to travel upon the public highways and to transport his property thereon, either by carriage or by automobile, is not a mere privilege which a city may prohibit or permit at will, but a common law right which he has under the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Thompson v. Smith, 154 SE 579

      It could not be stated more directly or conclusively that citizens of the states have a common law right to travel, without approval or restriction (license), and that this right is protected under the U.S Constitution.

      “The right to travel is a part of the liberty of which the citizen cannot be deprived without due process of law under the Fifth Amendment.” Kent v. Dulles, 357 US 116, 125.

      “The right to travel is a well-established common right that does not owe its existence to the federal government. It is recognized by the courts as a natural right.” Schactman v. Dulles 96 App DC 287, 225 F2d 938, at 941.

      American citizens do indeed have the inalienable right to use the roadways unrestricted in any manner as long as they are not damaging or violating property or rights of others. Government — in requiring the people to obtain drivers licenses, and accepting vehicle inspections and DUI/DWI roadblocks without question — is restricting, and therefore violating, the people’s common law right to travel.

      Researchers armed with actual facts state that case law is overwhelming in determining that to restrict the movement of the individual in the free exercise of his right to travel is a serious breach of those freedoms secured by the U.S. Constitution and most state constitutions. That means it is unlawful. The revelation that the American citizen has always had the inalienable right to travel raises profound questions for those who are involved in making and enforcing state laws.

      If the states have been enforcing laws that are unconstitutional on their face, it would seem that there must be some way that a state can legally put restrictions — such as licensing requirements, mandatory insurance, vehicle registration, vehicle inspections to name just a few — on a citizen’s constitutionally protected rights. Is that so?

      For the answer, let us look, once again, to the U.S. courts for a determination of this very issue. In Hertado v. California, 110 US 516, the U.S Supreme Court states very plainly:
      “The state cannot diminish rights of the people.”

      And in Bennett v. Boggs, 1 Baldw 60, “Statutes that violate the plain and obvious principles of common right and common reason are null and void.”

      “Where rights secured by the Constitution are involved, there can be no rule making or legislation which would abrogate them.” Miranda v. Arizona, 384 US 436, 491.

      “The claim and exercise of a constitutional right cannot be converted into a crime.” Miller v. US, 230 F 486, at 489.

      “There can be no sanction or penalty imposed upon one because of this exercise of constitutional rights.” Sherer v. Cullen, 481 F 946

      Can a government legally put restrictions on the rights of the American people at anytime, for any reason? The answer is found in Article Six of the U.S. Constitution:
      “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof;…shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or laws of any State to the Contrary not one word withstanding.”

      In the same Article, it says just who within our government that is bound by this Supreme Law: “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution…”

      For it is a felony and federal crime to violate or deprive citizens of their constitutionally protected rights. Our system of law dictates that there are only two ways to legally remove a right belonging to the people. These are:
      1. by lawfully amending the constitution, or
      2. by a person knowingly waiving a particular right.

    6. I dont know where these guys are LEOs at, but NO LEO I have ever come across follows any of what is written here…or even believes it is true.

      I tried this “sovereign” rights business quite a few years ago and only met with grief. I had a rubber stamp made up to stamp the citations that supposedly reserved my rights. The cops don’t react well to these tactics. Before “Police One”, the LEO blog, hid their comment section from the public you could find numerous posts daily that referred to us as “paper terrorists”.

      Good luck trying to live your life in peace when no one, including the public in general, believes what you are doing is following the Constitution. They claim that the .gov wouldn’t make a law that was unconstitutional, and that their “heroes” wouldn’t operate under color of law.

    7. Anonymous says:

      You can’t do anything about it so just be polite, do what you’re told as soon as you are told to do it and hope for the best.

      Your chances of having a negative encounter are very much lower that way.

    8. Meow Men of the Alt Media says:

      Be assured that you haven’t seen anything yet with regard to ever growing police state.

      Today I read an article titled: The suppression of known cures: thousands sacrificed for political agenda: FOR THIS CRIME ALONE THE PERPETRATORS MUST STAND TRIAL

      https://loope.home.blog/2021/05/28/the-suppression-of-known-cures-thousands-sacrificed-for-political-agenda-for-this-crime-alone-the-perpetrators-must-stand-trial/

      it’s a good article and filled with good information. Yet I was left flat and disappointed. You see, when I read the title thought finally somebody is getting serious about holding those accountable and bringing them to justice. The author seems to suggest that “federal health officials” are responsible for what has transpired. Well it seems to me our everyday doctors should be held to account. From nearly the beginning president Trump informed there was a promising treatment called hydroxychloroquin. In my ideal world our everyday doctors are responsible for treating illness. They are to do some research and advise. Yet they have done nothing to bring these inexpensive drugs to market while knowing full well of their tremendous healing and preventative attributes. Meanwhile they advanced the dangerous toxic vaccines knowing full well their dangers.

      I first began commenting on all this nearly a year ago. I warned of the newly born strategies blossoming in the advancement of tyranny. That people would not be able to get medical treatment and eventually this would lead to many taking the metaphorical mark of the beast. I was met with nay sayers who replied with comments to the effect of “I know I am ok because I sleep with my ar-15 and live in a very rural community. If I need any medical help I am sure the doctors will just slip me through the back door.” Well, it turns out I was correct. People have been denied medical treatment during the CV19 scamdemic. People are not even allowed entry to hospitals without mask. And now there is the roll out vaccine passports.

      For a long time I have been advocating for the public to hold their personal doctors accountable for the atrocities that we have been witnesses to. While for decades the policies foisted upon the public through our personal doctors are responsible for an inordinate amount of death, imprisonment, social injustice, poverty and the creation of the worst underground markets this new cv19 phase is a Holocaust on top of a Holocaust.

      While I am grateful to alternative media for what I have learned it is time for writers to begin to hold the everyday doctors accountable and begin to politically incite and indite them for their many crimes. Even the most fearless pundits seem to cower in fear of the everyday doctors. When callers call and say their doctors used unual coercive tactics to get them to take an mRNA vaccine they only respond with “have you thought about getting another doctor.”

      Meanwhile, pundits such as Matt Bracken come with pyramid structures to explain our times putting Satan at the top. I like Bracken but the everyday doctor complex is where the rubber of the NWO meets the road. That the alternative media has turned a blind eye to this fact is a disgrace. Stop being Meow Men!

    9. Clarification says:

      When I say “politically incite” I simply meant to spur them to action politically in a legally and lawful way.

    10. Darth Skippy says:

      The majority of grunions still believe in this and would be confused without it.

    11. Alan Wuertenberg says:

      Every country, free or dictatorship, has police. It should be noted that no dictatorship ever has a problem recruiting police, while free countries sometimes do

    12. Having been in law enforcement for over thirty years, I have noticed that the standards have been lowered, a mind set of “us against them” exists, training is woefully inadequate. Another point, police officers used to wear ties, now they wear full combat gear, don’t think this doesn’t reflect on their outlook, it really does. When I started, the tie was mandatory, your language was assiduously monitored, and your manners were always under inspection. It was an honor to be a cop, now it has become a burden for good cops, an panacea for bad cops.

    13. So, just submit meekly to your slavery...OR ELSE! The founders would be shooting by now. says:

      “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing .”

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