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Not a speed trap, a race trap: Black drivers say they've been profiled in and around Virginia town for decades

Gary A. Harki, The Virginian-Pilot on

Published in News & Features

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The video of Windsor police drawing guns on Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario before pepper spraying him on a traffic stop may have gone viral, but it wasn’t a surprise to some Black people who drive up and down U.S. Route 460 between Suffolk and Petersburg.

Many who use the route to travel from Hampton Roads to Virginia State University said they expect to get pulled over there on the pretext of speeding or tinted windows.

They say the real reason is because they are Black.

Watching the video, they thought, “That could have been my dad. That could have been my daughter. That could have been me.”

Eight Black former VSU students and faculty gave The Virginian-Pilot accounts of being targeted while driving between Suffolk and Petersburg. They say it’s been common knowledge for decades at VSU that if you travel through the area, you’ll be stopped on the pretext of speeding or a minor infraction, then get harassed by police.

“The Town of Windsor contends that there should be no rush to judgement on an issue as serious as allegations of racial bias, but that is what the Pilot is attempting to do in its zeal to build a case against the police in the Town of Windsor and other localities along Route 460,” reads a statement from Windsor Town Manager William G. Saunders.

 

Nicole Papillion traveled that road with her parents in the late 1980s and early ’90s while attending VSU. They taught her to watch out for police in the three W’s — Windsor, Wakefield and Waverly.

And when her daughter got a car while attending the historically Black university in the 2010s, Papillion said she and her ex-husband had a talk with her about driving that stretch of U.S. Route 460.

“Her dad always told her, no loud music, don’t be on her cellphone. Call us when you get where you’re going. If you ever get stopped, call us,” Papillion said.

And sure enough, just after giving her daughter the car in 2013, Papillion got a call. She listened intently as her scared daughter was stopped for tinted windows, though Papillion insists the tint was legal.

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