True story. Short post (not really). I was driving to Taco Bell one evening to order and pick up dinner. I am somewhat of a defensive driver. I barely graze the upper ceiling of speed limits. I am cautious of my surroundings. I respect the rules of the road. I have never been issued a traffic ticket. So, this particular evening was nothing out of the ordinary. I was in the middle turning lane when I realized a dark SUV had suddenly appeared behind me. As I completed my left turn – the light was changing from yellow to red – the SUV sped through the light and closed in tightly to my rear end. It startled me. At first I thought it was just another impatient idiot on the road, and then the police lights flashed brightly in my rear view mirror. Damn. I had absolutely no clue why I was being stopped. Taco Bell is literally 5 minutes from my home. I wasn’t speeding. I had used my turn signal. My plates were legit. I pulled into the Taco Bell parking lot. Suddenly, another SUV appeared out of the darkness.
Now, I have been stopped by police before, so I am not foreign to traffic stops. However, this moment felt different, I had never had 2 police SUVs swoop in with such velocity and basically box me in where I had parked. Lord. Did I fit the description of someone that ignited their aggressive pursuit? Generally, I have a personal protocol that I follow when being stopped by law enforcement. License and registration are already out so I don’t have to reach for anything in the car or on my person. I shut the car off and place the keys on the dashboard. I keep both hands on the steering wheel in clear sight. And I never enter into any excessive banter with the police. They ask a question and I answer. This night I was so shook, I am not even sure if I followed all my own rules. Of course, the police offered the usual line of questioning: Do you know why we stopped you? My reply was an honest no. They performed their due diligence and checked my license and registration. Everything was square. And then the officer offered the reason why I was stopped: He couldn’t read my license plate.
This incident happened months ago, and I have since procured new plates, so I am comfortable showing my old plates above. Take a look. A little worn, but clearly visible – 4FFZ24. I did not argue. I was instructed to buy new plates. I nodded in agreement and we parted ways. I carried on with the original plan and secured my take-out from Taco Bell. On my way back home, I stopped at a well-lit gas station to inspect my license plate. I took a picture, showed it to the gas station attendant, and asked him to repeat the plate numbers/letters back to me. He performed the exercise – surely thinking why am I doing this. I told him I was just stopped by the police because it was allegedly unreadable. He just shook his head in disbelief. I was irritated. I was rattled. But I was alive. Nevertheless, no matter how clean-cut I believe I am, no matter how by-the-book I carry myself; in the back of my mind is that nagging fear – what if I encounter that wrong one? What if on some indiscriminate day, my melanin is justification enough to trigger someone’s racial unconscious bias, leaving in the wake of my death a carousel of anger, anguish, ambivalence, and apathy? Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Yet, the stain of black blood on the fabric of America cannot be purged so simply. Trayvon Martin. Philando Castile. Eric Garner. George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Botham Jean.
Once while pulling out of a parking space, an older white woman started screaming that I almost and was trying to hit her with my car. I rolled down my window to see what the commotion was and she started screaming and screaming. I tried to reason with her – that I wasn’t even in the proximity of hitting her. A guy walking by glanced at me and offered a “what is wrong with this lady” look at me. And then she started screaming for help from someone that was out of view. The last thing I needed was someone to appear out of the shadows with guns blazing. I peeled off and got the hell out of there. I have more examples if you have the time. But I digress, don’t mind me. I just needed to write. I’m exhausted. I’m sad. I’m angry. I’m on edge. I can’t begin to put my feelings into words, but I had to try to put my feelings into words. Don’t mind me, I just needed to write.