Portland Lawyers Create ‘Driving While Black’ Smartphone App
A pair of Portland attorneys and a software engineer have developed a “Driving While Black” smartphone app offering practical advice for black drivers to help them avoid and survive encounters with police.
Lawyers Melvin Oden-Orr and Mariann Hylan, along with engineer James Pritchett, have joined forces to create the free app, which will be available for Android on Google Play and for Apple phones on iTunes later this month, to help black people pulled over by police while driving.
“The purpose of this app is to give Black people, people of color, and others who may be targeted for traffic stops, helpful information and tools to improve traffic stop experiences, safety, accountability and justice,” explains the app’s website.
“Driving While Black” provides useful information about traffic stop best practices, legal rights and safety tips, tips on recording traffic stops, advice for parents and more. It advises black drivers to avoid tinted windows and to ensure that all vehicle lights and turn signals are in proper working order to minimize the chances of being stopped by police.
In the event of a police stop, the app offers advice for interacting with police, as well as an ‘alert’ function which allows users to quickly notify pre-programmed people that they have been stopped.
Hyland told the Oregonian that she made a vow 10 years ago, after Portland police fatally shot 21-year old unarmed black woman Kendra James, that she would teach young blacks how to survive police encounters. With tensions between blacks and police as high as they have been in recent memory due to high-profile officer shootings of unarmed black men and resulting legal decisions perceived as unjust by many African Americans, Hylan says the app’s imminent release is as timely as ever.
The attorney also expressed understanding of the pressures faced by police.
“Being a police officer is a tough job,” said Hylan. “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.”
Oden-Orr cautions there is a time when black drivers should avoid using the app.
“Do not reach for your phone when you are talking to police,” he told the Associated Press. That’s because an officer could think the driver is reaching for a gun, with potentially disastrous results, as the recent wave of police shootings of unarmed black men and boys has shown.
The “Driving While Black” app comes on the heels of “Five-O,” another smartphone app created this summer by three Georgia teenagers which lets users document and rate their interactions with police, and “Mobile Justice,” released by the ACLU in Missouri and other states in the wake of the Mike Brown shooting.
According to a 2013 Justice Department report, black drivers are 30 percent more likely to be stopped by police than whites.