The news: Getting pulled over by the police is almost never a good thing.
Possible outcomes range from a $50 ticket and late arrival wherever you're going to a full-body pat down and brutal beating with onlookers filming it. Being black often increases the likelihood that any of the above will occur.
Which is why this video is surprising. Here's what happened when a group of students were stopped after an on-campus event:
The background: After pulling over four black students for driving with a "broken taillight" that wasn't actually broken, a police officer — who is also black — did the unthinkable: he gave them free parking in front of a Princeton hotel and engaged in a productive dialogue about why his alleged "profiling" hurt them.
One of the students tells the officer, "As black students, we don't feel like we get that level of protection. We don't get that benefit of the doubt that ... regular white students running around Princeton campus get."
Another student speaks directly to the cameraperson, calling the exchange "a healthy dialogue that would never be able to happen if we were individually confronting the police."
She adds: "This is the healthiest dialogue between just a public police and young black people that I've ever seen."
Ironically, the students had been attending a conference organized by the Black Youth Project 100, a nationwide coalition of "100 young black activists" uniting to "mobilize communities of color beyond electoral politics." You could not ask for a more perfectly situated group of young people to have experienced this.
The big picture: Besides the high-profile traffic stops that define public perception of black Americans' relationship with the police — such as the Rodney King beating — empirical studies have revealed important statistical details. USA Today summarizes one such study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which found that the major discrepancies between traffic stops involving white people and blacks and Latinos take shape after the initial stop. Specifically, blacks are nearly three times as likely to be searched, twice as likely to be arrested and almost three times as likely to be "subjected to force or the threat of force" as white people.
The ever-present specter of such treatment has resulted in a fraught relationship between many black Americans and law enforcement officials. Racial profiling is an ongoing concern. The aftermath of this particular stop speaks to the possibility that positive dialogue can take place, perhaps leading to constructive long-term solutions.
But a larger question remains: would things have gone differently had these young people not been Ivy League-educated political activists on a college campus?
Correction: This story originally mis-identified the students as Princeton students.