Recently I was pulled over by the police for a routine traffic stop. It was six o’clock at night so there was still plenty of light. I had a broken driver’s side mirror that was still intact, but patched up so that it was still serviceable. I thought that was the reason why I was being stopped. The police pulled up behind me, and followed me for two blocks and then turned on their lights to make the stop. Unbeknownst to me, the registration on my car had expired. I found a safe place to pull over and awaited my fate.
There were a million thoughts running through my head: will this be a friendly or hostile police officer? How long will this stop take? How much of a fine will I get for a damaged mirror? I knew my driver’s license is clear; I have no points on it and my last ticket was four years ago. Yet I still had a feeling of uneasiness as I put the car in park. Then it happened, I spotted a female officer in my right side mirror, slowly inching toward my car. When she got to the rear window, I rolled it down. She yelled, “The other side!” Then she pointed in the opposite direction. I turned to my left, and there was a male officer at my driver’s side window. He was trying to talk to me, but I did not respond because I did not know he was there!
I quickly gained my composure and rolled down the window. He asked the typical question, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” “No,” I replied. He told me my car’s registration had expired. Then he asked for my license, registration, and insurance card. I pulled out my wallet to produce my driver’s license, and then opened the glove compartment to get my registration and insurance card. Meanwhile, the female officer had a curious angle to my right to watch the exchange take place. He also asked who owned the car, before he hastily went back to his police car. The female officer made a much more cautious retreat back to the car. I saw that she never took her eyes off me.
After about five minutes, he returned to my driver’s side window. He told me the car was registered in my wife’s name, but if I am driving it I should know about the expired registration. He did look at the damaged mirror, but said nothing about it. Instead, he issued me a warning for the expired registration and told me to get the car registered as soon as possible. I felt a sense of relief until I looked over my right shoulder. Again, the female officer carefully slid back to her position near my passenger door. She had an anxious look on her face that really made me nervous.
Now I know this seems like an innocent encounter with two police officers that ended without incident or fine. Thank God for that! It was an example of proper police work, and a level of professionalism that I appreciated once the stop ended. However, for me it was far more than a regular traffic stop. It was a situation that could have escalated into a conflict with far worse consequences than a traffic fine. It could have become a #CopsLivesMatter vs #BlackLivesMatter situation. Maybe it was my imagination, but I know how easy these encounters can turn into a confrontation. Let me review a few points…
- He was trying to talk to me, but I did not respond because I did not know he was there! What would have happened if my lack of communication led the officer to think that I was being uncooperative? If you don’t think this is possible, please review the case of Sandra Bland.
- I pulled out my wallet to produce my driver’s license, and then opened the glove compartment to get my registration and insurance card. What would have happened if either officer believed I was reaching for a weapon? If you don’t think this is possible, please review the case of Jamaal Jones.
- She had an anxious look on her face that really made me nervous. What would have happened if she and her partner thought I was a criminal who made them fear for their lives? If you don’t think this is possible, please review the case of Marcus Jeter.
I know that critics who read this will be quick to say that none of these things happened, so what is the big deal. The big deal is that EVERYTIME I see the police, I get a little nervous. Even though I am a law-abiding citizen without a criminal record, I STILL get nervous when I see the police. To be fair, I must share the event described by Will Stack, who is a law-abiding citizen whose traffic stop ended without incident. Not all stops end with a confrontation because there are thousands of good cops who act with professionalism and courtesy every day.
However, this does not diminish the fact that I have to be careful anytime I am stopped by the police any way. I have far too many personal #AliveWhileBlack stories to support my anxiety anytime I see officers of the law in my rearview mirror.
Yes it is true that #CopsLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter. No one disputes this. This is my attempt to let you know that when it comes to routine traffic stops, it is important to remember that #BlackLivesMatter too.