Commentary

Driving while Black? Make sure you avoid these common traps | Michael Coard

A city law backed by Councilmember Isaiah Thomas offers equality and protection for Black drivers

January 10, 2023 6:30 am

(Capital-Star file)

Troy H. Wilson, a prominent Black criminal defense attorney and civil litigator, has grown tired of seeing and hearing about Black people’s rights being violated by the police, so he decided to do something about it.

In addition to defending Black people who have been falsely accused of crimes by police and filing lawsuits for Black people whose civil rights have been violated by police, he recently decided to start holding community forums to enlighten Black people about their basic legal rights.

And he started on Monday with his public online session entitled “Driving While Black.”

However, he won’t be alone. Scheduled to join him was one of City Council’s most influential movers and shakers, namely the Honorable City Councilman Isaiah Thomas, a freshmen at-large member who chairs the Education Committee and the Streets Committee.

Moreover, Thomas has created and funded a multitude of youth programs, serves as a high school basketball coach, and sits on numerous boards of nonprofit organizations that promote the interests of the city’s most vulnerable young people.

But the councilman’s biggest claim to fame is his Driving Equality legislation, which went into effect ten months ago on March 3. More about that later in this article.

Also joining Wilson and Thomas was yours truly, activist-attorney Michael Coard AKA “The Angriest Black Man in America.”

Wilson, the creative force behind the “Driving While Black” session, has an impressive pro-Black background. Not only does he have 33 years of experience representing adults and juveniles, he also has served as chair of the Criminal Justice Section of the Philadelphia Bar Association and currently serves on the executive boards of the Pennsylvania Bar Institute and the Philadelphia Bar Education Center. Also, he taught as an adjunct professor of law at the Widener University School of Law.

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And most remarkably, in addition to presently serving as chair of the Social Justice Committee of the city’s Office of Black Male Engagement, he’s a founder and past president of the Concerned Black Lawyer’s Association that provided pro bono legal advice to the Philadelphia community for nearly a decade.

During a recent interview, I spoke with Wilson and later with Thomas about this issue of “Driving While Black.”

Wilson said the following: “I organized this event because I believe knowledge is power. I am attempting to give back to Black people the knowledge that our panelists [at the upcoming session] have attained in dealing with ‘Driving While Black’ issues for years. I want to see the continued survival of Black people and want to see more Black people have the tools to, potentially, safely walk away from dangerous encounters with police following traffic stops.”

And Thomas said, “Driving Equality works to improve police-community relations without negatively impacting public safety. By reclassifying eight minor traffic violations, we were able to remove negative interactions without changing the motor vehicle code.

Most important, Driving Equality was successful and is being replicated across the country because of collaboration and partnership. Every voice was heard and taken into account to make this process truly representative of all of Philadelphia. I look forward to discussing this as well as my personal story behind the [Driving Equality] bill at the upcoming ‘Driving While Black’ session.”

In order to dispel the lies being told by the haters, who claim that Thomas’ “Driving Equality” law allows criminals to drive without insurance and to create all types of mayhem on the streets, allow me to explain exactly what it does.

As reported by Brian Saunders on March 4, 2022 here at The Tribune, only the following eight minor violations are included in this law:

  • Driving an unregistered vehicle (with a 60-day grace period)
  • Relocation of temporary registration permits (must still be visible)
  • Driving with an unfastened registration plate (must still be visible)
  • Driving with one missing brake light, headlight, or running light (more than one light is not covered)
  • Items hanging from the rear view mirror
  • Minor bumper issues
  • Driving with an expired inspection sticker
  • Driving with an expired emission sticker

Now that you’ve heard what Wilson and Thomas have eloquently said in connection with their roles as panelists, here’s what I angrily say in connection with my upcoming role as a panelist:

“Hundreds and arguably thousands of innocent Black men and women have been injured or murdered by trigger-happy white supremacist cops who, by the way, are not only white men and women but are also Black and Brown men and women who are nothing more than modern-day plantation overseers who happily serve as Black and Brown faces on white supremacy.

If there had been a law in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area on July 6, 2016 like Councilman Thomas’ Philadelphia Driving Equality law, innocent 32-year-old Philando Castile would still be alive today.

But because Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez and his partner were able to use the BS pretext of Castile’s brake light being out, Yanez fired seven close-range shots into Castile’s car – with Castile’s fiance and her four-year-old daughter inside – and five of those seven shots hit and killed him. And the other two shots could’ve easily killed that baby girl and her mother.”

I must stop now because I am becoming even angrier thinking about that murder, especially since, despite the overwhelming evidence, the ten-white, two-Black member jury found the killer cop not guilty of all charges.

And when I become too angry, I’m inclined to use extremely profane language. But I respect The Tribune too much to do so in this article.

This column was first appeared in the Philadelphia Tribune, a publishing partner of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. 

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Michael Coard
Michael Coard

Opinion contributor Michael Coard, an attorney and radio host, is a columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune. His work appears on Tuesdays on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may follow him on Twitter @michaelcoard.

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