I was racially profiled

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Several years ago I was stopped by the police.

I was just driving along and bam - pulled over.

Well, actually I was speeding a bit - but downhill. And I was only coasting. And I was on my way to jury duty...where I was juror number 5 in a first degree murder trial. Where the accused were young Hispanic and Black men, and a drug deal gone terribly wrong. It was, however, their good fortune to have committed this (alleged) crime in New Hampshire, where the 98% white populations was Sure to give them a fair and equitable trial. And They pulled me. The white wife of one of the Two Black dudes who lived in all of Strafford.

So there I was, on my way to perform my enforced civic duty when I was so rudely pulled over. And given a ticket. Which seemed wildly unfair to me, given where I was going. Did he realize the photos of blood and brain I had to look at for the past week? That I had to stick my head in a tiny Ford Escort, and look down on the seat where one man died after being shot in the head and neck and two others fled the scene. That my delicate white lady sensibility had been roundly abused by having to learn details of drug deals and babys mommas, my ears assaulted by slang terms like "crush", meaning "to have sex" and why these young men were wearing such baggy trousers as was the style in their "group".

Flash forward to months later when the trial was long over and I was to have my day in court to protest my ticket. I dressed carefully that day. I wore a lovely light purple velveteen dress with matching purple leather pumps. I was wearing the pearls with the matching earrings that my husband had given me for a Christmas years prior. As it was winter, I had my cashmere long coat on with a small, but tasteful, bag to finish the look.

I arrived at the courthouse and presented my bag for inspection. I smiled and flirted with the elderly court guard. I am not a flirty woman, but I was prepared for what I was marching in to battle and a bit of practice couldn't hurt.

I was handed my purse and wished good luck by the baliff. I walked into the courtroom and walked to the front to await my turn. The judge had not yet arrived, so I glanced to my left and right, seeing the police officer who had detained and ticketed me over to the right. There were other people too seated towards the back. Women and men - all white, but dressed in a terrible choice of clothes. Lots of Denim, sneakers and Nascar shirts. Were they aware they were in court?

I was called first - Naturally. I was sitting right up front, after all. The prosecutor offerred his summary of the case - That I was speeding and was given a ticket. I walked across the court room and was sworn in. I sat in the witness box, and offerred my response. Which was that I "might" have been speeding, a little. But That I was a juror on this murder trial and it was very stressful...and that I just don't normally break the law, but this trial - you see - the pictures. Plus I work for the State , part of DCYF (which houses child protection). I help enforce the laws.

I smiled at the judge. I may have even cocked my head to show my earrings and matching necklace.

The judge smiled back. "No more Speeding, Ma'am - we want you to get home to your family safe and sound!"

I smiled back. I nodded.

He dismissed the ticket and I walked out a vindicated woman.


There is sarcasm and irony in this story. There is also a bit of self acknowledged shame that I played my part so well. I went into that court room to portray a very specific image, which I achieved most successfully. As the wife of a Black American , I have been in the car ( or right behind) when He has been stopped for DWB (Driving while Black). I have seen him waved through the airport security when he is with me or our daughter, but stopped and searched when he is alone. I deserved that ticket. I WAS speeding. My skin color and socio-economic status were my free pass that day in the courtroom. As to the trial in which I was a juror, I have written about that before here. I am still a bit haunted by what happened in the jury room.

3 Baleful Regards:

SUEB0B said...

I got in a bit of a raised-voice discussion last night with this old white man. He said that Henry Louis Gates should have behaved differently. I tried to explain that, as a white man, he had no context in which to put what happened between a black man and the police. I bet that every single black family in the US has at least one story of police abuse of powers and that is something most white people just can't relate to.

Dawn said...

Oh Suebob - The stories I have heard. The things I have seen.

Yes, perhaps in the Gates situation tempers flared. But my temper would have flared too if I felt I had proven that I was in MY home, and still being questioned. Cripes, I got all "HOW DARE YOU" for being stopped on my way to jury duty.

A long time ago, in a conversation with my mother in law she shared that she worried EVERY time one of her male relatives left the house. The chances of them being stopped, or arrested, or shot for no other reason than Being Black were so much greater than that of my own brother, for instance , that she was perpetually prepared for the phone call. The one from jail, or the hospital, or the morgue.

The white man you spoke with - he has the privilege of NOT having to see any of the ugliness that men of color in the US face daily - even in small ways. The not getting a cab. The cab stopping for your wife and child...but when they see you with your dreadlocks, they decide they can't take your fare. The searches at border and in airport security.

Terrance remains calm in a way that I never do - I get livid. Outraged. How DARE they , I want names, numbers, you name it. But he doesn't react and just waits. Remains polite. .

It is a sickness, this refusal to see. To protect your own sense of the world at the cost of others - literally on their pain, so that you can feel safe and righteous in saying the police are always right.

I knew that day when I walked into that court room that I was acting a role. From the outfit to the mannerisms, I wore the outfit of privilege.

And that is the most disturbing thing. I expected to be let off. I did not expect to pay a fine, and so it was. The law is Not impartial any more than Fox is fair OR balanced. We need to stop pretending that it is impartial and applied fairly to every American.

Until then, all the privileged white guys of American will continue to scream that they are being oppressed.

La said...

I remember once I got pulled over on a road trip...


We were driving I-10 (which is a notorious drug running highway) and were pulled over by not 1, not 2, but 3 sets of cops. The reason they gave for pulling me over? I didn't move out of the lane fast enough for a cop a few miles back who had turned on his lights.

*blank stare*

The worse part was they were so sleezy. And it was so obvious we were on a road trip. I'm talking suitcases in plain sight, empty potato chip bags, etc. I have to stand outside on the side of the highway, in all my collegiate apparelled, 12 hour road trip glory for 30 minutes while Barney Fife interrogates me. And after repeatedly asking me if I could possibly be running drugs and/or guns for my boyfriend (I don't know what was more offensive: that the black girl on the highway had to be running drugs or that I couldn't have my own drug enterprise, I had to be participating in a boyfriend's business. Racist AND sexist) they finally let me and my mom go after detaining us a good 30 minutes, yelling at my mother, and doing everything in their power to intimidate me.

But of course they didn't leave without one of those redneck bastards hitting on me.

The thing about this whole Gates situation is that our frame of reference is totally different. White people who have never had to deal with this can't fathom this being such a commonplace occurence and therefore think we are jumping to conclusions.

Black people who know this happens everyday and that people have died for less, can't believe anyone would be naive enough to assume otherwise.

Sorry for blogging in your comments.

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