Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Driving while black

Driving while black is a phenomena that is not new to me. I just hadn't had reason to think about it in a while. That changed a few days ago.

I was headed to a meeting downriver to give a presentation. I left myself enough time to get there in an effort to not be forced to hurry or speed to my location, which was in Wyandotte. I even took surface streets, because I had the extra time and figured I would avoid potential traffic jams during rush hour.

Driving down Schaefer, many cars passed me by and I thought nothing of my speed as I was motoring along with the flow of traffic. As I pulled up to Jefferson and stopped, behind a car that had just zoomed around in front of me and was preparing to turn right after traffic cleared, I noticed a police cruiser pull up behind me.

Glancing in my rear view mirror, I noticed that the officer was busily punching the keys of his on board computer, apparently running my plate. I knew the drill, having endured this for the last 25 years or so. But I thought little of his attempts to see if I should be locked up, figuring I'd done nothing wrong.

As I turned the corner onto Jefferson, however, the police officer turned on his flashing lights. I pulled over figuring he was just trying to get past me in and effort to go fight crime somewhere. Yeah, I know, but honestly, I did.

But the officer didn't speed past me, he pulled up slowly behind me and parked. That's when I had a moment reminiscent of the movie "The Usual Suspects," during which I played in my head images of all of the motorists who had passed me by prior to the traffic stop. I realized I was the only one who looked like me, who had my complexion, and I was not happy about being the only one who left sitting on the side of the road.

I was told that I was stopped for speeding in a 25 mph zone, and couldn't dispute that fact because I was merely going along with the average speed of those around me, and figured if people were passing me, I couldn't have been rolling along all that quickly. Certainly not speeding.

But what could I do? I could've been outwardly pissed, and demonstrative. However, I doubt I would've made it to my meeting, had that been the case. So I gave him my license and papers and he wrote out the paperwork. Then I listened to the condescending lecture, took my ticket and drove off, hoping that I would make it o the meeting and back to the office without being stopped again. Funny thing is, I hadn't received a speeding ticket in nearly 20 years, and suddenly I was worried about getting more than one in a day -- because I was downriver. I felt like the driving while black rule was still in full effect there.

I have many friends in law enforcement, of varying ethnicities, and I admire the job all of them do. I don't think most officers are prejudice. But I had a bad feeling about that stop that day.

When I got to my meeting, which had just started (good thing I left myself plenty of time, I thought) I shared details of my incident with a colleague during a break. That colleague is also black, and apologized for not warning me about the police. My colleague told me that since being handed an assignment to work in the area the police had issued so many tickets that they recently received a notice from the Secretary of State's office.

The irony is that I have spent considerable time over the last few weeks studying social justice philosophy, including the principles of justice and fairness. What is just isn't necessarily fair. Driving faster than the limit is not legal, and stopping one person and not others is not fair, but just -- even though it doesn't feel that way when you're the lone brother who gets fingered. I hate to think I was profiled, but refuse to be naive enough to dismiss the notion. Driving while black in 2009?! Pathetic.

Anyone got an extra $130 to spare?

1 comment:

Ursula said...

Not that this solves the DWB issue, but it may help your shelling out $130 issue... the last time I was in traffic court (many, many years ago), a person ahead of me made his case that his speed was in line with the flow of traffic and to reduce speed would have impeded traffic - and he was let off by the judge. Of course, this was Ann Arbor and he was white... might not play the same with a old, white, downriver judge. (And something tells me they are all old and white.)