Officer: “Do you have a license and registration?”
I was eighteen and driving to work from a church small group meeting. I was in Clermont, Indiana, one of the suburbs of Indianapolis. I was driving the speed limit and listening to the radio, when police lights suddenly flashed on behind me. I was confused, but quickly pulled over to the side of the road. The police officer walked up to my window:
Me: “Yes.” I reached for my glove compartment and handed them to him.
Officer: “Do you have any idea how fast you were going?!”
Me: “I was under the speed limit. I was slowing down to turn.”
The officer snapped: “The speed limit is 35! You were going 38 for a little while back there! Do you want to explain to me why you’re eighteen and out this late at night with a beer keg in your back seat?”
Me: “That’s a propane tank. I’m on my way to work third shift and that is used to power the equipment.”
Officer: “You just wait here!” Then he stormed off.
I just sat in my car trying to figure out what was happening and hoping that I wouldn’t be late for work. The police officer suddenly came back and threw my driver’s license at my face through the open window and yelled “You’re lucky I got another call!” Then, he ran back to his car.
I was not speeding at any point. He lied to justify his stopping me. I still have no idea why I got pulled over. Maybe it was because I had an older car, maybe because he thought I was too young to be out.
I was pulled over because of his assumption of guilt. Maybe he was just bored.
This police officer decided to pull me over and seemed determined to find a reason why I was doing something wrong. The reason this story sticks out in my mind so much is that it was an oddity. My interactions with police officers are generally positive and friendly.
Take the focus away from law enforcement. My interactions with most people are positive and friendly. If I am walking down the street, people wave or smile. Lonely old people who are out in their yards start up conversations with me, just to have a person to speak with for a little while.
It is because I’m white.
Something that is often taken for granted by those who share my skin color is the assumption of innocence. That assumption is called White Privilege. It is the privilege of being the recipient of positive assumptions.
Black people are more likely to killed by police officers than white people, but are more likely to be unarmed than white people. The percentage of violent crimes committed in a city has no impact on the number of black people who are killed by law enforcement officials.
If I were dark skinned, then what would be going through my mind as a police officer approached me?
Racism in the United States is systemic. It is not confined to being a black versus white issue. It is not a Democrat versus Republican issue. It is a cultural mindset that has flourished over our 250 years as a nation. But, now, with modern ability to record, document, and bring greater national visibility, it is being exposed in greater light than ever before.
Keep recording. Keep documenting. Keep exposing. Keep protesting.
It is time for racism to die.