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"Arrested Mobility": Exploring over-policing of Black mobility in the U.S.


Charles T. Brown is the founder and principal of Equitable Cities, a minority- and veteran-owned urban planning, public policy, and research firm focused at the intersection of transportation, health, and equity. He is also an adjunct professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. Charles is an award-winning expert in planning and policy and has been interviewed by several notable outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, VICE, and Bloomberg CityLab. He is highly regarded as a keynote speaker and leads workshops on transportation, health, and equity for audiences worldwide. Charles previously served as a senior researcher with the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University, where he authored several groundbreaking national and local studies that redefined how experts analyze the role of race and racism in transportation and mobility. In 2020, Charles was part of the inaugural class of the Public Voices Fellowship on the Climate Crisis, which is managed by the Yale School of the Environment.


Dr. Charles T. Brown identifies as a "street-level researcher", a "pracademic". His answers are found on the streets, amongst the people living there. His unique experience of working outside and inside of academia has set him up to ask hard questions, and to understand a variety of experiences across ideologies, cultures, cities, and communities. Emphasizing equity in his practice, Dr. Brown says that equity also requires the recognition of an underserved, underrepresented, or wronged popoulation and that a balancing of the scales is required to right those circumstances. He explains to our Virtual Colloquium that "what we know about equity, then, is that in its most basic sense, it involves trying to understand, give people what they need to enjoy full, healthy lives".

"So what we know about equity, then, is that in its most basic sense, it involves trying to understand, give people what they need to enjoy full, healthy lives".

Dr. Brown explains that equity is a multidimensional concept, and a full examination requires an understanding of the root causes of inequalities and oppression in our country. When applying the concept of equity to race, it becomes specifically about "transforming the behaviors, institutions, and systems that disproportionately harm people of color". On the back end, this means directly increasing people of color's access to power, redistributing resources, and allowing communities to thrive.


However, Dr. Brown points out, emphasizing race does not diminish other groups' marginalization, or the intersectional impacts and their connection to equity. Priming his talk with this concept, Dr. Brown launches into a rich discussion of equity and transportation planning, and the direct link transportation planning has as weaponized oppression against communities of color.


Traffic violence is more likely to affect older adults, people of color and people walking in low income communities. Dr. Brown tells us that older adults, those 50 years and above, are 1/3 more likely to be struck by a moving vehicle. Additionally, Black and African American populations were 73% more likely to be struck and killed based on data from 2008-2017. Income also plays a part, where communities consisting of people making under $36,000 a year were also more at risk. Dr. Brown explains that for planners and the larger academic community, blaming behavior is an easy cop-out. He joins Cities@Tufts to disprove that notion, because "we know that race determines place which determines health".


Referencing the consequences of redlining and historically racially segregated zoning and housing policy, Dr. Brown presented the Colloquium viewers with a series of maps illustrating segregation in urban and suburban centers, which essentially dictated where Black populations were allowed to live and purchase property during the suburban booms of the 60s and 70s. Since then, marginalized BIPOC communities have been colocated with affordable housing projects and victimized through large highway systems and "redevelopment", in addition to redlining policies.


This, Dr. Brown argues, is the indicator for traffic-related violence. For race determines place, and we still see BIPOC and other marginalized populations facing disproportionate health impacts through environmental injustice and proximity to waste treatment or extraction facilities. Downstream work focused on transportation doesn't paint a holistic picture necessary to combat the problem of transportation and mobility head-on.


He gives the Colloquium a justice framework with which to see transportation equity:


  • distributive justice (physical access):

- forces us to ask, "who has physical access to that street, to that park, or to that trail?"

- do people feel safe from traffic in their neighborhoods?

- what is the social-political atmosphere of the place?

- proximity is not access.

  • procedural justice:

- "who has influence over the design, the operations, and the programming of a

particular process?"

- minority youth are not included in transportation planning outreach, yet are 2x more

likely to die in a transportation event in their adulthood.

  • interactional justice:

-"what makes people feel welcome or unwelcome in a space?"

- we must make the procedure of transportation planning equitable and inclusive.

- this is also an issue regarding police brutality and its connection to race.

  • representational justice:

- "do people feel that their experience in history is represented in this space?"

- how often does historical and cultural erasure contribute to lack of autonomy in space

and place?

  • care:

- "how do people demonstrate their care and for this space, care for the space and

other people in it?"

- intentionally caring for/with people in space and through space


So, viewing the issue of transportation equity through this lens and through these necessary representations of justice, it becomes crystal clear that true, institutionalized racial equity requires institutional change. It requires that we build racial equity in our cities, schools, and neighborhoods. That we focus "proactively [on] counteracting inequities inside and outside of these [government, higher education, planning] organizations."


However, due to the current apolitical and acultural transportation justice-focused action in the country today, we see pedestrian/complete or safe streets initiatives working on safety without real, institutional change-making or cultural capacity building. This type of solution building leaves our Black, Brown, and poor folks and continues down a path of disenfranchisement.


Dr. Brown encourages solution makers to think past the implementation of these programs and instead invest in solutions that decry the past historical injustice on mobility, that decry the lack of safe transportation infrastructure for Black and Brown people. That instead, promotes equitable mobility for all people, but especially BIPOC.


This, Dr. Brown says, brings us to his concept of arrested mobility: "Arrested Mobility is the assertion that Black people and other minorities have been historically and presently denied by legal and illegal authority, the inalienable right to move, to be moved, to simply exist in public space. Unfortunately, this has resulted — and continues to result — in adverse social, political, economic, environmental and health effects that are widespread and intergenerational. But they are preventable, which is why we are here talking about it today". Using the concept of arrested mobility, we can understand how transportation inequity directly affects the four realms of racismn-- the personal, interpersonal, institutional, and culutral. This type of mobility discrimination is also apparent in the overpolicing of Black people, which includes a direct relationship to their physical mobility and an indirect relationship to their social.

"Arrested Mobility is the assertion that Black people and other minorities have been historically and presently denied by legal and illegal authority, the inalienable right to move, to be moved, to simply exist in public space. Unfortunately, this has resulted — and continues to result — in adverse social, political, economic, environmental and health effects that are widespread and intergenerational. But they are preventable, which is why we are here talking about it today". – Charles T. Brown

Through policy and planning, policing, and self-deputized citizens (or, as Dr. Brown said, "the so-called Karens"), Black people are overpoliced in our country everyday. This robs Black people of the ability to freely move from place to place, robbing them of opportunties, social connections, livlihoods, and access.


Dr. Brown continued to explain the phenomenon of arrested mobility, using the powerful examples of Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, and Mike Brown who were walking when they were killed by self-deputized citizens or law enforcement. Black people receieve 55%of pedestrian violations in Florida yet make up only 29% of the population. They received 79% of bicycle tickets. In Oakland, 60% of all bicylists stopped were Black cyclists, and it doesn't stop there.


Head over to our partner, Shareable, to listen to this lecture and more. Or, find us wherever you get your podcasts. Check out Dr. Charles T. Brown's work at Equitable Cities.