It was a product developed with Black drivers in mind: A small, translucent pouch to store license and registration information within plain sight on a motorist’s air vent.
The invention eliminated the need to make sudden movements that law enforcement might mistake as aggressive.
Valerie Castile immediately saw its promise. What if her son had never reached for his wallet during that 2016 traffic stop in Falcon Heights? Could this have saved Philando’s life?
“Maybe if he’d had that device,” Castile said while promoting the product during a St. Paul media event Wednesday, “there’s a 50-50 chance he would have survived.”
She lauded the “Not Reaching” pouch as a simple, preventive tool that could fundamentally change interactions between police and people of color — who are pulled over at disproportionate rates for minor infractions compared to whites.
A 2018 Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office report found that more than half of Minneapolis motorists stopped for equipment violations were Black, even though Blacks make up only about a fifth of the city’s population. Racial disparities are even greater when accounting for police searches.
Community leaders have long discussed the dangers confronting Black drivers and lamented the frequency at which some are stopped by authorities.
Philando Castile was stopped by police 44 times by the time he turned 30 years old. Three years later, when he was shot dead by a St. Anthony police officer, that number had jumped to 49.
“We do not want another Philando Castile anywhere in this country, let alone Minnesota,” his mother said. “If we can eliminate as many excuses as we possibly can, then our kids will be more safe.”
Rather than fumbling inside a wallet, purse or pocket for documentation, a motorist could simply pluck the magnetic pouch from off the dashboard while keeping their hands within view of an officer. The device, which retails for $9.99 online at Notreaching.com, is also customizable to more clearly identify a driver who’s hearing-impaired, on the autism spectrum, or legally licensed to carry a firearm — as Philando Castile was.
Valerie Castile recently donated 20 such pouches to the 8218/Truce Center in St. Paul, an organization working to de-escalate youth disputes. She plans to funnel more to the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center, but hopes to one day see the state of Minnesota offer the product to teens upon completion of driver’s education classes. Miki Lewis-Frost, founder of the Truce Center, is also lobbying for private donations to secure widespread distribution.
“We can’t let a small amount of money keep us from doing something as huge as saving a life,” he said.
Safety was her mission
Jacquelyn Carter, of Alexandria, Va., dreamed up the idea in the aftermath of Philando’s death. The tragedy had unfolded on national news as she celebrated her Black son’s 30th birthday.
It swept Carter back to “The Talk” she gave him when he learned to drive, issuing strict instructions about how to interact with police. Keep your hands on the wheel. Say “Yes sir, Yes ma’am.” Don’t ride with four people in the car.
Even after a tour in Afghanistan, Carter’s son, a Navy medic, feared being stopped by the police. His mother realized she wanted to be part of the solution.
So she consulted friends in law enforcement and began drafting prototypes. Within two months, Carter handed loved ones a working model to clip inside their vehicles. Several reported back that it changed the tenor of their encounter with police and sparked a conversation.
“It’s about both sides going home safe,” said Carter, a former church administrator, who considers the tool a form of “proactive compliance.”
Over the last three years, she’s sold roughly 20,000 and given away thousands more. Her nonprofit, Alliance for Safe Traffic Stops, where Valerie Castile serves as a board member, was born out of the product’s larger mission.
Yet, one day she hopes the Not Reaching pouch will become a relic of African American history — joining the likes of the Green Book, a travel guide to help Black motorists navigate the south during the Jim Crow era.
“The one thing I hear about Not Reaching all the time is ‘We shouldn’t need it,’ ” Carter said. “Well, we shouldn’t. But we do.”