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Driving While Black Smartphone App Now Available
Published:
4/21/2015 4:00:20 PM


Melvin Oden-Orr, Mariann Hyland and James Pritchett
 

 

By Tom Huskerson


Incidents in recent weeks have reminded all people of the horrible relationship between black people and law enforcement. Again and again black men have ended up dead as a result of an encounter with a police officer.

Driving while black is not a crime but a situation that is far more dangerous than just avoiding accidents. African-American parents have the added fear of wondering if their child will ever return when they leave home in the family car.

A 2013 U.S. Justice Department report revealed that a black driver is 30 times more likely to be pulled over than a white driver.  It is an insane situation to deal with but we have to. But now there is an app for that.

An African-Amercan lawyer in Portland, OR  has created the “Driving While Black” app. Mariann Hyland made a vow 10 years ago, after Portland Police fatally shot 21-year-old Kendra James during a routine traffic stop, to do something about these tragic incidents. She teamed up with another lawyer, Melvin Olden-Orr and software developer James Pritchett to create the app. It is intended to teach young black people how to survive being pulled over by police. As the level of tension between police and people of color continues to escalate after the Mike Brown and Eric Garner decisions, Hyland says this type of education is crucial.

“Being a police officer is a tough job,” said Hyland. “They deal with the most horrific experiences in society. They’re first responders. And traffic stops tend to be where they get hurt the most. So they’re on high alert when they pull you over. We want to educate people about how to put them at ease so they don’t feel threatened.”

The app also instructs young drivers on what to do if they do get pulled over. Alert functions in the app allows users to program in three numbers such as their mother, a friend or a lawyer if needed. When stopped by the police the driver can hit the “alert” button to immediately send a message to those three people.The “Driving While Black” app teaches young African-Americans how not to get pulled over in the first place. The app points out factors that can put a police officer on alert such as tinted windows. It urges people of color to perform as responsible drivers by using turn signals early. The app also offers a checklist to remind drivers to keep their license plate tags up-to-date and their headlights in working order.

“People feel so alone in these vulnerable situations,” Hyland said.

The “Driving While Black” app offers a record function so the user can tape and log interactions with police. It also provides video tutorials that demonstrate good and bad behavior during traffic stops and forms for submitting commendations or complaints against officers. It also includes a how-to-guide for parents talking with their kids about police. There is a checklist for ways to keep officers at ease. During research before the app was created Hyland and her team discovered that police see a car full of empty Red Bull cans as a danger sign.

But Hyland still had concerns about the app and the potential for danger. For example; could a driver reaching for his or her phone to use the app be mistaken for reaching for a weapon; a gun? We know it happens.

Oden-Orr considered if they should include video recording. Secretly recording police is illegal in Oregon. Other similar apps, including the ACLU’s Mobile Justice app for Android devices and the New York City-based Stop and Frisk Watch app for iPhone, allows it. They decided to include the record function with a reminder for the user to tell officers they are being filmed. They  also suggest using a hands-free device.

“Driving While Black” focuses specifically on traffic stops. But many police encounters happen outside traffic situations. Pedestrian situations have proven to be just as dangerous  as the Ferguson interaction between Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown clearly indicate.

Hyland pointed that “Driving While Black” consolidates resources from dozens of sources but reminds users that each case is different. The app teaches mothers how to talk to their sons about police. Eventually, it also will include a directory of lawyers for the user’s area, programmed using location-based technology.

“Driving While Black” is available for Android and iPhone.

 

 

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