This post is very unlike my other blog entries, but I just have to write about an incident that happened this weekend, mainly because I am so infuriated…
Friday evening, my husband, two kids, brother, and pet boxer head down I-95 to travel from Baltimore to Apex, North Carolina to attend my great uncle’s funeral. After numerous snack stops and bathroom breaks, we finally near the homestretch as I turn from the main parkway to the residential neighborhood where my cousin lives. I notice in my rearview mirror that two police cars have begun following me. I make several turns and the police vehicles and our car are the only ones traveling on this dark residential road. We turn on my cousin’s street and the navigation informs us that we are approaching our destination. I’ve never been to my cousin’s newly constructed home, so I slow down to read the house numbers. There are few streetlights, and it’s very difficult to see through the darkness with the headlights from the police car practically sitting on my bumper.
I finally see the house (which I just passed on the left), so I slowly turn into a driveway so I can park on the right side of the road. That’s when the blue and red lights start flashing. I stop the car and wait and wait.
I roll down my window and look towards the police cars stopped behind me. That’s when a female officer yells for me to stay in my vehicle. I had not planned on getting out and at this point, after driving six hours from Baltimore to NC, I am more than annoyed at being less than 20 feet from the house and much needed rest while I wait for the officer to explain the situation.
Finally the young officer comes to the car, but she stops by the back seat and tells me to roll down my back window. My six-year-old son is sleeping in the seat behind me, so I ask her: Why have I been pulled over?
Officer: Because you were driving extremely slowly and practically came to a stop in the road. (This is her first UNTRUTH. They started following me from the main road, so how could my slow driving in this very poorly lit residential neighborhood be the cause for their suspicion?) Now roll down your back window!
I do not see the connection between driving slowly and the back window, so I start to explain that I have two young children sleeping in the back – when my brother (who is sitting in between the car seats) complies with the officer’s request. She sticks her flashlight in the window and shines it in my son’s face. My brother reacts by rolling the window back up. She yells, “Don’t you roll the window up on me.” I (now catching an attitude) explain again that I have two young children sleeping in the back seat. Again, my brother rolls down the window, and this time she holds the flashlight at more of a distance, but the kids are now awaken by the cold January air and disturbing light.
Seeing that there is no contraband in the back of the car (just two confused children, a protective uncle wedged between two car seats, and a dog who could use a walk), she asks: What are you doing here? I explain that I’m here to attend a funeral tomorrow. I’ve never been to this house before, and the streets are dark. She takes my driver’s license and walks back to her vehicle.
…A half an hour after she first flashed her lights, the officer returned to our car with my driver’s license. She tried to explain that from her perspective how a person who is lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood can look similar to a person driving under the influence. I bit my tongue when I wanted to respond: But you never checked my SOBRIETY. You never asked the standard: Have you had anything to drink? You never even looked me in the face, because you were looking for something else.
My son, who was now wide awake, asked, “Mommy, why are you so mad?” I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to say, “because she is lying about why she pulled us over and she unfairly detained us so she could try to find something to charge us with.” I wanted to yell, “I’m mad because you had to wake up to a police officer shining a flashlight in your face, and there was nothing I could do. Because I’m tired, and it’s not right.”
I was torn, because I don’t want my son to grow up jaded and cynical about law enforcement. (For goodness’ sake, his grandfather is a retired police officer.) But I also have to realize that I am raising a black son in America, and the unfortunate truth is that everyone doesn’t get to play by the same rules. My husband and my brothers have all been unfairly pulled over and detained (multiple times) by police officers. One officer even had the audacity to admit, “bunch of black guys driving on out-of-state-tags during beach season. I figured I’d find drugs.” Then he proceeded to make them get out of their car, while he searched it for illegal substances. We’ve been forced to remain at our car by the side of the road when we have done nothing wrong – in the name of protecting society. But what can we do when it’s dark, and it’s just us and the police?
While I’ve ranted about my personal experience, I’m confident that this lesson can be applied to other situations. Surely there are decisions by powers of authority in education that are guided by less than pure motivations and justified by a “for their own good” mentality.
My eventual answer to my son: Because she’s using her position of authority to treat us unfairly, and I feel like I have little recourse to resolve the matter. Of course, he didn’t really understand what I was saying.
One day, I hope to have a better answer for him, but I can only control the example that I set. Thus, I strive to treat and protect him and all other children with means that are just and equitable to achieve an end that is honest and true to their full potential for making this world a better place.