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Portland nonprofit replacing burned-out car lightbulbs for free

The founder of CNB-Seen said his mission is to keep drivers safe out on the roads while also reducing unnecessary traffic stops.

PORTLAND, Ore. — During a Saturday cleanup in Portland's Richmond neighborhood, people passing through the area may have noticed Don Merrill holding up a sign announcing free replacements for burned-out taillights.

Volunteers with Merril's nonprofit,  CNB-Seen, spent the morning inspecting and changing dead lightbulbs, a small but important service. 

"A lot of people don't even know they have a light that is out," said Merrill, "and in some neighborhoods, that's a bigger deal than in other neighborhoods."

Merrill's mission started a couple of years back, with the intent of reducing the number of people getting pulled over by police for a minor equipment violation

"My concern when I hear people being pulled over for a taillight is that it can become a dangerous situation for people in the community, especially people of color, is what I noticed when I read the news," said Shelley Allan, who had her taillights checked on Saturday. 

"It’s like everybody knows that there is a disparity, but whether or not you want to admit the extent to which the disparity exists -- well that’s something else," Merrill said. "It’s a really difficult issue and this is just a tiny little thing that I’m doing. I mean this is not going to change the world, but I’m hoping that someone who comes to get a bulb replaced because they don’t want to get pulled over by the police, whether it’s because of public safety or whether it’s because they don’t want to be profiled, that’s what I’m here for."

In March, Gov. Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 1510 into law. Part of that legislation aimed at cutting down on unnecessary police stops and interactions by prohibiting officers from initiating traffic stops for minor violations.  

"I would say that is a step in the right direction. Every little bit is a step in the right direction," Merrill said. "The police are police and they're going to do what they do, and I would like to think that would be fewer stops but you just don't know."

Merrill and his team will continue their outreach, hoping to branch out into more Portland neighborhoods to host events. 

"The more bulbs that get changed, the more conversations people have, maybe those police stop data numbers will go down you know. That would be a nice goal."

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