So after having watched this man refuse to identify himself as a US citizen (and even though he was kind of a douche about it and really defeated the purpose, because now he caused an even longer traffic jam behind him, he is right. Unless he was crossing a border, there is no valid reason to ask someone during a random checkpoint about citizenship, and even if he said yes, how would he prove it?), I started to think about other times people are unnecessarily forced to identify themselves.
And I remembered my own. Get ready for this.
Now, I understand that when you’re pulled over by a cop, you do have to identify yourself. You have to show your license, you have to show your registration. I get it. That’s the way it’s been every single time I’ve been pulled over in my life.
But what if the cop never asks for those things, and instead grills you, without ever telling you why he’s doing so?
Let’s go back (identifying towns and names removed)…
I was 18, in my ’89 Cutlass Supreme, going to pick up a friend in pretty affluent neighborhood and go to one of those 18 and up clubs. It was the first time I’d been to her house, there were no damn streetlights, and I was having a hell of a time trying to see the house numbers, so I may have been driving a bit slower than the unwritten 30. This apparently warranted a patrolling sheriff to pull me over.
Okay, fine. Maybe it’s suspicious to see someone driving slowly down the street and he thought I was casing houses. I get that. But when you come to my window and I’m in my full club gear – sparkly top with cleavage, glitter on my eyes, the whole thing – do I look like I’m trying to be inconspicuous?
Asks if I know why he pulled me over. No.
What are you doing in this neighborhood? Picking up a friend.
Where does your friend live? Address given on this street, explanation that I can’t see the numbers.
Have you ever been here before? No, that’s why I don’t know where I’m going.
How do you know this friend? I give the short story, that we work together, when the real story is that we met the summer before standing in line at 4am for Nsync concert tickets, but instinctively I didn’t think he’d find that one as cute as we do.
Where do you work? Title and address of nearby workplace given.
Where do you live? nearby middle to upper-middle town, address given.
Who do you live with? Face probably gives away confusion, but explain with my parents, I’m 18.
At no point has he told me why he pulled me over, or asked to see any ID. He then does not ask me to step out of the car, rather attempts to open my door. Here there is a problem: my seatbelts attach to the door, making the door near impossible to open completely whilst I’m wearing it. Now he finally TELLS me to get out, still trying to open the door himself. He’s shouting, I’m trying to unbuckle my seatbelt. Now his partner is out of the car, runs around to the front of my car, hand on his gun, yelling at me to show my hands. I hold my hands up, the first guy is still pulling on the door. This goes on a few more seconds, and now the gun is in this guy’s hand. I finally give up, I’m crying, pretty sure I peed a little, my hands are up, and I just start screaming, ‘I can’t open the door the seatbelt is attached! I didn’t do anything!’
Thank every God of every faith for nosy Pollocks at this point (I can say it, I’m Polish too), because my friend’s mom was in her window trying to see what the commotion was about down the street. Friend comes to the window, recognizes my car – turns out I was two houses away – and begs her mother to come outside with her.
So Mrs. Friend’s Mom is like, excuse me officer? Which first earns her a “please return to your home ma’am!” but apparently they didn’t know who they were talking to, because she was like, “um, no.” She was able to shut them up long enough for them to hear that I was a friend of her daughter’s, and then she indicates daughter next to her, dressed similarly to me. They still ask me to exit the vehicle, and the first cop steps back so that I can open the door myself, which I did, and made me stand behind the car with my hands on the trunk, while friend and her mom were told to stay on the sidewalk. They finally ask for my ID, run my license, and even did a reverse address check to verify my parents names. Only then did they let me go. No apologies, no explanations. The second cop just stay in the car while the first one hands my stuff back to me and says okay have a good night.
Seriously? You think I’m even capable of having a good night now? You gave me no reason for making this stop, it’s not like I have warrants or anything that would cause you to flag my car’s license plate (especially because I’d had the car for all of 2 months at that time), and yet I was somehow supposed to be okay with this? I wanted to be like, Do you know I’m half-white?
Which brings me to my next point.
I’ve told this story as a racial profiling one in the past, only to be told that it’s not, because the cop had a valid reason for pulling me over: My driving slow.
Okay, fine, as an adult, I can say, sure, he did. But after having pulled me over, after having seen that I was a teenage girl just ready for a night of dancing with friends, that particular suspicion should have faded. At that point, if he truly wanted to be a dick, he could have just waited until I found the house, to see for his own two eyes that I had a valid reason for being there. He could have gone through his first questions, then asked to see my license. Once he’d seen that I did live five minutes away, that my car was in fact registered to me, and that I hadn’t actually done anything wrong nor violated any traffic law (if anything, I was doing what more drivers should be doing: driving slowly down suburban residential streets), then he should leave me alone. Again, if he still wants to be a dick, keep his car where it is as I go about my business, and watch me.
But no, this man saw a car moving slowly down a street in a well-to-do area. He thought to himself, “Oh shit, this person must be up to no good!” He pulled the vehicle over, and saw a beige person behind the wheel. “Bingo!” his thought, his eyes lighting up. “This black motherfucker has no business in this rich neighborhood!” Even after asking me a series of questions, all of which he could have easily confirmed as true within five minutes in your car, had he taken my license, he still thought, “Fuck this darkie! I know she’s hiding something!” and proceeded to attempt to pull me from my vehicle. When it didn’t open, he simply assumed I was holding it shut. When I reached down, he gestured to the other guy for backup, because he immediately thought, “Oh shit! She’s a drug dealing gangster! She’s probably got a gun that she’s going for!”
Even after having a resident of the very street that you’re trying to keep safe come out and identify me, even after seeing her daughter, who obviously knows me and is waiting for me to come and take her out… these two still couldn’t suck and up and be like, okay sorry. They still had to not just verify my identity with my license, but felt the need to check out my story about whether or not my parents actually owned the house that I said they owned, because they thought, “There’s no way black people live in such a nice area, this bitch must be lying.”
So, that’s my story. Had I been pulled over before that night? Yes, once for speeding when I was late to school, which of course made me later. Luckily, it was Spanish 101, which was carefully selected as my easy A, as I’d been taking Spanish since I was 10. It was in roughly the same type of area, affluence wise, but did I undergo any treatment not typical of a traffic stop? No. Have I been pulled over since. Yes. Still for speeding and once for a stop sign (which I really didn’t see), and once because the completely clear, non-tinted, non-colored, plastic covering that I had over my plate was obscuring my license. Oh, and he could have also ticketed me for having decals in my back window and decor hanging from my rearview, but he let it slide that time. His words. I personally think he was trying to throw his non-existent weight around to compensate for the fact that while I was sitting in my car and he was standing straight up we were still at eye level with each other. Even with his douche larouche attitude, I have never been in any traffic stop situation (even border crossings) where I was treated with such a level of disrespect, and nothing you say to me will make me see that event as anything other than some serious racial profiling.
Okay that’s a lie – I was once pulled over and had my car searched while going into Canada. I had to go into the immigration office, where I was surrounded by people of varying Middle East and South Asian descent, and Hispanic and Latino descent. To this day, I wonder which one they thought I was. Definitely racial profiling at its finest – you look (insert ethnicity here), therefore you are suspicious – but everyone was very polite about it.