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The Minnesota Department of Public Safety has a new plan to keep drivers safe during traffic stops: clear, plastic holders called “not-reaching pouches” that put a person’s driver’s license and insurance information in plain view so a cop doesn’t think they’re grabbing something more nefarious.
“Hey guys? The problem isn't that people sometimes have to find the paperwork when you ask for it. It's that you sometimes shoot people when they are looking for that thing you asked,” one person said on Twitter Thursday, addressing the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. “This doesn't solve that problem.”
In the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s view, the pouches are just one way to reduce what the agency euphemistically described in a press release as “deadly force encounters.” Officers can freak out when drivers, particularly Black motorists, reach for their wallet or other information during a traffic stop—and some cops have responded to that simple action with threats, brutality, or even gunfire.
Before a Minnesota cop shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop in 2016, for example, the Black man had calmly informed the officer that he had a firearm before he went to get his identification. The cop responded: “Don’t pull it out,” meaning the weapon. After he was shot, Castile moaned and said, “I wasn’t reaching.”
Castile’s death is what prompted the creator of the “Not Reaching!” pouch, Jackie Carter, to act. She went on to partner with Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, who now serves on the board of directors for her nonprofit, the Alliance for Safe Traffic Stops, which separately teaches student drivers how to handle traffic stops.
Then the Minnesota Department of Public Safety purchased her pouches to give away during community events, along with other law enforcement agencies, according to a press release.
Carter told VICE News that the cynical Twitter reaction to Minnesota’s announcement went way too far. After all, she didn’t think she’d find “the solution for a lifetime,” she said—just a way to do something.
“It shows me that there’s still this division,” said Carter, a Black woman who describes herself as a “solutionary.” “No one’s looking at the middle ground. It’s us against them. And that has to end.”
Castile also thought Carter’s product was a “brilliant idea.” By eliminating the step in which a driver reaches for their wallet during a traffic stop—something they have to do to comply with an officer’s commands to produce their license, insurance, and vehicle registration—the “not-reaching pouches” could de-escalate seriously dangerous tensions, and potentially save a life, she thought.
Castile and her daughter currently use the pouches, she said, and she’s been passing them out to parents who are eager for a means to protect their child.
As for the pushback, she said, people are reading too much into it. The pouches aren’t hurting anyone.
“My god, it’s a plastic cardholder, for God’s sake. Why are you upset and angry about a piece of plastic?” Castile said. “Some people don’t have to worry about that in the morning when their kids leave. They don’t have that anxiety and frustration that their child may not come home because of what’s happening in the world. But for the fact that my son was murdered, there probably wouldn’t be a not-reaching pouch.”
A person doesn’t just have to use it when they’re driving, she said. They can also utilize it when they’re hunting or fishing so they have a place to keep their license safe.
“You’re in your feelings for what? I’m not getting that. It’s a piece of fucking plastic, and it’s got you bent out of shape,” Castile said.
Most Twitter users seemed to be reacting to the perception that drivers—not police officers—would be seen as responsible for saving their own lives by using the pouches, when cops could just not kill people reaching for their wallets. The NAACP, for instance, responded on Twitter by saying: “Dear Minnesota, this is not the flex you think it is. Cops shouldn’t need to see a pouch in order not to shoot. #PoliceReformNow.”
The problem goes beyond Castile, too. A former South Carolina state trooper shot and injured Levar Jones in 2014 after he attempted to get his wallet during a traffic stop for a seatbelt violation, for example. That same year, a cop in Opelika, Alabama, also fired at an airman who had gotten into an accident on his way to a Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, causing internal damage, all while he was holding a wallet.
Brandon Hasbrouck, an assistant professor of law at Washington and Lee University, wrote in an email to VICE News that he understood Castile and Clark’s motivation to prevent an unnecessary police killing, calling the pouches a “good faith proposal from Black women looking to make the conditions of police stops safer.”
Still, he said, they were unlikely to promote public safety, since the pouches don’t get at the real issue: pretextual traffic stops, officers disproportionately pulling over and searching Black drivers, and the fact that U.S. roads are still unsafe despite aggressive traffic enforcement.
“Ultimately, focusing a solution to the police death trap on the behavior of drivers is victim blaming, and is reminiscent of conducting active-shooter drills in schools,” Hasbrouck wrote. ”Rather than confronting the root problem—the person with the gun—the proposal is purely reactive and asks how we can attempt to survive the shooter.”
Better solutions might include getting police out of traffic stops and traffic enforcement altogether, he said. That’s part of what defunding the police is about—putting resources that used to go to armed cops into other helpful programs, Hasbrouck said. “Those resources can be better used in programs that have actually been shown to increase public safety.”
Castile also noted other big policy changes that could keep people safe, though she still supports the not-reaching pouches in the meantime. She pointed to Ramsey County, Minnesota’s plan to stop prosecuting minor traffic violations, like registration issues, as another positive step.
Similarly, Minnesota DPS Assistant Commissioner Booker Hodges said the pouches are just part of the solution, likening it to a piece of a puzzle. Police are taught that “hands kill,” he said, so traffic stops can be stressful for both officers and drivers alike.
“I personally believe this: I’ve got a Black wife. I’ve got two Black sons. Anything we can do—even if it’s saving one life—is worth it,” Hodges said.
Also, he doesn’t pay attention to Twitter.