Monday, November 8, 2010

Black Like Me (or my car)

Bob Dylan--"Hurricane (live)" (mp3)

Last Thursday night, little old white suburban me was racially-profiled.

Or at least my car was. Previous adventures with my 1995 dark green Toyota Camry have been related on this site, but I guess I've never really described the car. Even though my father-in-law bought it for driving around a retirement community in Florida, we have always thought that it was "pimped." In addition to its dark color, he had some kind of extra-dark tint put on the windows, I'm sure because of his cataracts and the hot Florida sun.

I have since tried to remove said tint, but only with partial success. It was put on very, very well, and while portions of it have peeled off, much of it remains, impossible for the amateur to remove and with the resultant outcome that the car, or at least the windows, look like they have one of those skin conditions where there are two different blotchy shades of pigment.

The car also looks just plain dark, and in addition to a front right side scrape that my wife had driving a child to school, it also has a pretty good dent on the passenger side where a woman without insurance hit me in a Bi-Lo parking lot and I just said to her, "It's an old car. Don't worry about it."

And bumper stickers. One reads "I (heart) New Orleans," one reads "Dino Jr.," and one reads "Grateful Dead," but if you just saw the stickers and didn't bother to examine them, coupled with the various dents, scrapes, and peeling, darkened windows, you might be inclined to think a poor person, probably a poor black person was driving the car (instead of a white person drowning in college tuition).
At least if you are a cop.

Here's what happened: my friend Steve and I were driving down a major road headed to our usual Thursday night sports bar destination. It's about a three mile drive, and I noticed after about a mile a police car sitting in a parking lot to our right as we drove past. I checked my speed; I was under the 40 mph limit.

I thought as we went down the road that maybe he had pulled out after us, but, completely within the limits of the law, I thought little of it. At a stoplight at a major intersection, all of a sudden he was right behind us. He didn't do anything, but as soon as the light turned green and we went through it, his blue lights came on and we pulled over on the left side of the road. We had not done anything wrong during the entire drive to that point.

(Let me backtrack: the day before, I had had my car inspected since the tags expired on Oct. 31, and, at the last second, before I drove to Steve's house, I went back inside mine to see if, by some chance, my new sticker had arrived in the mail. It had. I put it on the license plate, picked him up, and we went on our way.)

When he walked up to my window, he said, "Did you just put that sticker on your license plate recently?" "Yes," I said, "Just tonight." "Well," he said, "It isn't in our system. I'll need your driver's license and insurance card." Which I provided.

Now, if you're following this confusing narrative, here's what you know: he can't have known that my updated license plate wasn't in the system until after I drove by him and until after he pulled out and followed me and until after he ran my tags at the stop light. All with my having done nothing wrong.

So, he came back and handed me my papers and said, "You're good to go. Your new registration just wasn't in our system yet." As if the pattern of his actions was normal and made sense. Um, officer, I'm thinking, and you ran my tags why?

Now, I ask you, who gets pulled over for doing absolutely nothing? Hint: it isn't a white, moderately-affluent school teacher at a private school.

Or, shall I ask you this: when you see a car pulled over by the side of the road with blue lights flashing behind it, what kind of car is it, typically? If you said, an older, worn-out looking, seen some hard times kind of vehicle, well, at least in Chattanooga, you'd win a prize!

There were a number of police cars on Brainerd Road that night, and they were all interacting with cars like mine, it being the end of the month and a good chance to generate some extra income with fines for expired tags.

Maybe I should have taken him on, told him that I knew exactly what was going on, that I knew he thought I was black and that's why he pulled out after my car and decided to run my tags through the computer. But you know what? I don't mess with police. Not in any way, shape, or form. I appreciate their help when I need it, but when I don't, I don't trust them to behave with liberty and justice for all. Especially not with someone who can expose what they are doing wrong. I'm chickenshit that way.

1 comment:

Billy said...

Not that I disagreed with anything you wrote, but I think what your car communicated about your economic status was a bigger determinant than than whether you were a specific skin shade.

Both together are certainly the double whammy of damnation, but appearing poor was probably enough.