(WXYZ) — The group is called Southeast Michigan Pull Over Prevention, and behind the effort are community members on a mission to pump the brakes when it comes to unnecessary police interactions.
"What we are doing is minimizing or hopefully eliminating police encounters, unnecessary ones, by performing simple repairs to people's cars ... headlights, brake lights, tail lights, stuff that the motor vehicle code allows the police to pull people over for, but which may be cost prohibitive to to people," said Shane Mall, Pull Over Prevention volunteer.
Photos courtesy Pull Over Prevention
Those stops, which are legal, are called pretextual stops. It’s when an officer pulls over a driver for a traffic or ordinance infraction while really seeking evidence of another crime.
Criminal defense attorney William Maze walked us through just some of the vehicle issues that can get you pulled over.
“You need to make sure both headlights are working at all times, if you have a burnt out headlight, that's a legal reason to stop the vehicle ... turn signals, you make sure that both turn signals are working ... excessive air fresheners is going to be a sign to the officer that the person might smoke marijuana but the officer is also going to claim that the air fresheners are obstructing the motorist's ability to see," said Maze.
The policing tool is controversial — and has led Washtenaw County to discourage its use.
“It’s bad when a police officer is just randomly stopping people, randomly asking for consent on a fishing expedition, and we know that a lot of times, that happens in areas that are socially and economically challenged, that also happen to be in areas of Black and Brown, and it leads to racial profiling," said Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton.
Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit said they will no longer charge “contraband crimes” if (1) a civilian was stopped for a minor traffic or ordinance violation, and (2) the officer used that stop to obtain “consent” to search the civilian or their automobile — without any independent suspicion to believe that the civilian committed a more serious crime.
“These types of stops are disproportionately affected against Black people and people of color," said Savit.
The free pull over prevention clinics, community organizers say, are born out of a desire to fight against systematic racism.
"We launched the first one, it was really successful, there was a clear need for it. We launched the next one, even more people came in. So that was just an indication, OK, this is something we're doing. This is something we're doing right. It's clearly a need in this area," said Jonah Hahn, volunteer with Pull Over Prevention.
From avid DIY car enthusiasts to mechanics, volunteers come to pop-up clinics ready to help tackle those small but pesky repairs — but these events go well beyond fix-ups.
"We've also been giving out, thanks to wonderful support from the Washtenaw County Health Department, we've been giving out a lot of COVID safety supplies, cleaning products, masks, both adult and child sized ... we also have a food table where people can come get a snack," said Natasha Abner, volunteer with Pull Over Prevention.
There are additional resources for those who stop by from health clinic information to nearby food pantry schedules.
"The idea is much more about giving people the power to be able to try and do some of these fixes on their own and also recognizing alternative ways in which we can help each other," said Hahn.
Organizers say it’s fluid — and that’s how they want it to be.
"The hope is to get a lot of different organizations involved, because there are many ways that these issues intersect ... whether it's housing, injustice, individuals experiencing homelessness, racialized police stops, a lot of the fundamental issues at play here are affecting similar kinds of people, and their root causes tend to stem from the same places. So the hope is that we continue growing organically, incorporating more groups, more voices, and so that the nature of the event can also change," he said.
Organizers said they hope this effort grows in other communities — and that they are happy to share more about their process to anyone who is interested.
For more information, or to inquire about volunteering, check out the group's Facebook page here.