PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Oregon Representative Travis Nelson is calling for accountability after he was stopped by Oregon State Police twice in three days for traffic violations — raising racial bias concerns.
The freshman representative raised the issue of possible bias when he tweeted about the late January traffic stops.
According to a release from Nelson’s office, the representative was pulled over on Jan. 30 for going 11 miles over the speed limit. Nelson admitted going 11 miles over the speed limit but maintains he never swerved out of his lane as the trooper suggested.
Two days later, he was pulled over for holding a cell phone while taking a call on speaker phone. But unprompted, the trooper asked Nelson if he worked for the legislature, and then said, “I’ll let you on your way.”
“To my knowledge, there’s no law saying that legislators cannot get tickets,” Nelson said. “With both stops, I was hesitant to tell either of the officers that I was a lawmaker. I did not want my being a legislator or someone who makes laws to have any impact on the way that I was being treated by the officers.”
Nelson was let off with a warning in both instances.
Following Nelson’s Tweets about the stops, Oregon State Police released a statement saying, “we take any allegation of racial bias seriously and are committed to eradicating racism from our profession.”
Nelson also received support from his colleagues with a statement from Oregon House Democrats and messages across the aisle from Republicans.
Nelson explained he still has questions and concerns about the stops but said he looks forward to more conversations about racial disparity in law enforcement.
Nelson’s traffic stops occurred in the wake of Tyre Nichols death — a Black man who was beaten to death by police in Memphis, Tennessee.
“That Tweet came on the first day of Black History Month and it was on a Wednesday. That Monday, I had a stop that I didn’t Tweet about. And then Tuesday I took to the floor of the House of Representatives to speak out against what happened with Tyre Nichols and really reflected on how I could have been Tyre Nichols. And so, for me to be pulled over the day after that really just had me going like, ‘What the heck, man?’” Nelson told KOIN 6 News.
“We know there are definitely racial disparities when it comes to who gets pulled over and we know that traffic stops often lead to further interaction with the law enforcement system,” Nelson said. “They often check whether your license is good, whether you have warrants, whether the car is actually yours or not. And we know that Black men and men of color are much more likely to be pulled over.”
Nelson says he is concerned about racial bias in law enforcement noting, “I’m somebody who’s been stopped at least 40 times since I started driving and in talking to other Black men, that’s not an unusual amount of stops.”
In January 2023, the Portland Police Bureau released data on traffic stops from October through December 2022 — claiming 21% of drivers stopped by PPB officers were Black or African American.
The representative also explained that the United States has seen too many cases that exemplify how routine traffic stops can be problematic for Black men.
“We’ve seen what happened with Tyre Nichols, we know what happened with George Floyd and when you’re Black and you’re behind the wheel, you’re often times concerned that a modestly negative interaction with law enforcement could leave you injured and there’s a long history of that in the United States,” Nelson said.
As some law enforcement agencies adopt body cameras, including Vancouver Police Department, Nelson says he is thankful that footage can bring awareness to racial disparities.
Across state lines, the City of Portland and the Portland Police Association announced they still can’t reach an agreement on body camera policies after months of negotiations.
Nelson says it’s important to hold law enforcement accountable and to have conversations about bias in Oregon.
“Conversations that we continue to have are really related to: How can we continue to ensure that not only does OSP keep an eye on disparities in traffic stops, but how do we ensure that there aren’t problems with individual officers as well?” Nelson said. “I think we need to continue to work with law enforcement, hold law enforcement accountable and continue to collect and examine the data related to traffic stops.”