Known as blue privilege, there is an unwritten law among police officers: when they catch their fellow cop, or even their fellow cop’s family member or friend breaking the law, they are let go without consequence. Situations that have led to the murder of minorities and poor people end far differently when its police and their families caught committing the same crimes. A recent report out of Vice shows that this corruption runs so deep that police unions actually issue courtesy cards to friends and family of cops that allow them to get out of minor infractions.
The cards are issued by the Police Benevolent Association, or other police unions and they are known as “courtesy cards.” They have the issuing officer’s name and signature on the back, along with a phone number for the ticketing or arresting officer to call to verify the relationship.
As Vice reports, the cards are designed to be presented in a low-stakes police encounter, like a traffic stop, as a laminated wink-and-nudge between officers that says, “Hey, would you mind going a little easy on this one?” When a cop is handed a PBA card, they can call the number on it to verify the relationship between the cardholder and the issuer, then decide whether it means they should give the cardholder a break.
Vice interviewed a man identified only as Mike, who told them he’s been a courtesy card carrier for decades. Mike told Vice of one police encounter in which he was driving a car that was not his, had no license plate, and was illegally driving on the shoulder through a police check point when he was stopped. Despite Richard breaking numerous laws in front of police, when they stopped him, he pulled out the card and he was sent on his way.
“That was probably the tightest spot I could’ve been in,” Mike said. “Because [the offense] could’ve been ‘driving without a plate,’ ‘driving with no registration…’”
The PBA isn’t even trying to keep it a secret. As Vice reports, New York City’s largest police union issues these courtesy cards—nicknamed “get out of jail free cards”—to its members on a yearly basis. Members can pass the cards out to whomever they choose to provide them with a little extra protection.
While cops don’t have to necessarily abide by the card and can use discretion either way, the fact that the cards exist highlight a glaring problem with police.
TFTP has reported on countless cases in which minuscule traffic infractions have led to brutal beatings, shootings, and killings of otherwise entirely innocent people.
One prominent example of this is Philando Castile — who was executed by police — despite breaking no law. On July 6, 2016, Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez pulled over a 32-year-old African American male named Castile for a broken tail light. During the stop Castile informed Yanez he had a legal fire arm in his vehicle. The admission caused Yanez to issue a rapid sequence of conflicting orders resulting in Yanez “fearing for his life,” and subsequently killing Castile, despite the fact that he had committed no crime—other than the alleged vehicle infraction.
Yanez was cleared of all wrong doing in the execution of Castile. Had Castile been carrying a PBA card, he would likely be alive today. But we’re guessing these cards don’t make their way to the hands of too many poor and minority people.
This list of police killings for minor infractions goes on and on.
The odds weren’t in Walter L. Scott’s favor. 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.
Had any of the aforementioned individuals been given one of these PBA cards, they would likely be alive today.
The sad part about this is that the connected class’s preferential treatment through the issuance of these cards allows them a pass when they can actually pay the fines imposed on them through these traffic stops. The majority of traffic citations in most areas, however, go to poor people and minorities who often cannot afford to pay them. When they fail to pay their citations, arrest warrants are issued and these folks get processed into the system ensuring a lifetime of suffering.
The solution here isn’t to start ticketing more rich people, it’s to stop predatory policing all together and usher in a society where a police union get out of jail card is moot because cops stop extorting people for being unable to fix a broken tail light.