I had a long day yesterday. Up at 6am to go to work; returned to my car at 7pm to find a flat tire. After trying unsuccessfully to revive the tire for about an hour, I gave up and decided to go to my sweetie’s place for the night. Turns out he was heading out to a party in Decatur, and he graciously invited me along. Several hours and a bout of exhaustion later, I found myself behind the wheel of his car, driving him and three other partygoers home.
Just as I was settling in for the drive, one of my passengers decided to stop at the corner gas station/convenience store for a beverage. After he went inside, we were approached while inside the parked car by a police officer. He questioned us, took all our IDs, and stopped just short of lecturing us. The only reason he could not lecture us is because he had nothing to lecture us for. He claimed he “stopped” us (his words, but we were already parked) because the area was a violent and dangerous area. As a disclaimer, I parked sloppily at an angle because I was tired, but that fact was never mentioned by the officer.
Now, let me back up and explain a couple of demographic tidbits that would have seemed extraneous prior to the narrative above. The area we were in is largely black. The officer and his partner were (and presumably still are) white. I am white. All of my passengers, black.
My reaction to the situation was adverse. While waiting for the officer to return with our IDs and his verdict, I was shaking and on the verge of tears. I have a low tolerance for unexpected situations, especially after the long and unpredictable day I had. I also have a low tolerance for unfairness. And to be honest, I have a low tolerance for cops.
What I have stated above are facts. Please feel free to build your own conjectures, as I myself have.
Personally, I think we were profiled. I don’t know whether the preponderance of black males in the car was the tipping point, or if it was the particular fact that a white guy was driving around aforementioned black males. Maybe they thought I had been carjacked.
Nobody in the car looked threatening. The aura of “fruitiness,” shall we say, could not have gone unnoticed. Maybe in the end that saved us from being profiled into the jail for the night. But there was no particular reason to have approached us in the first place. There were far shadier characters going in and out of the store and walking on the street. Granted, they were all black as well, but when you have four all in one vehicle, with a white accomplice, I guess it was too irresistible to pass up. I can all but guarantee if I had four white buddies in the car with me, the conversation would have been different (“You guys need to be safe out here!”) or non-existent.
Although my exhaustion contributed to my nerves, I was struck by an awful fear that I had never known in my interactions with law enforcement. For the first time, I felt like no matter how innocent I was, I was at the mercy of the officer’s whims. Because I couldn’t be convinced that the whole interaction wasn’t based on a whim, and a racially motivated whim at that.
And at the same time, I was outraged that the general attitude among the passengers was “Oh, no, THIS again.” The fact that anyone expects to be treated this way by law enforcement is unacceptable. There is a difference between hearing stories and being in the middle of one; so, while I wasn’t surprised by the facts of the situation, I was shocked by the experience of it.
To those of you who have been in these situations numerous times, this story is no doubt boring and even irrelevant. The officer was more or less respectful (though I have a very acute sense for the “less” end of the spectrum, and it beeped a couple of times), and we were not directly threatened, accused or implicated in anything. And we were not taken in. All’s well that ends well, right?
Well, no. At the end of the day (and it was the very end of the day), I had my ID taken and run by a police officer as a direct result of absolutely nothing. My very long day was prolonged by 10 minutes as a direct result of absolutely nothing. My emotional equilibrium tottered for a good hour or more as a direct result of absolutely nothing. My friends endured a humiliating mini-interrogation as a direct result of absolutely nothing. Including overhead and salary, probably about $50 – $100 of taxpayers’ money was wasted on absolutely nothing.
And we as taxpayers continue to subsidize a system that perpetuates this type of capricious and biased judgment against its own citizens.
And that is truly something.