Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Yet Another Misunderstanding: One Husband’s View of Racial Profiling

William Zachery, guest blogger
Driving While Black
  I have seen, far too many times in my life, acts of racism, be described, discussed, or determined to be either:  the personal hang-up of some misguided individual(s); or simply a “misunderstanding.”  For the former, the person(s) is/are often maligned, and even accused of trying to incite racial divisiveness. This is funny to me; because it implies that we currently have racial harmony. For the latter, the person(s) is/are also often maligned for being so racially ignitable, that their allegations are called racially charged attacks against someone / institution that would never participate in or perpetuate such a terrible thing as racism. 

The reality is that we all have racially charged thoughts or ideas; the real question is what we do with / about them. Particularly what do those with the power do about their racist ideology and behaviors? But as long as we continue to believe that we can’t address / discuss such matters, (with those who don’t look like us) we will continue to be sickened by the vanilla responses / neglect to the blatant acts that continuously occur in our society. And we’ll never grow beyond this poorly veiled state of denial that our society is in today.

Here’s my latest “misunderstanding.” Last Saturday night, my wife and I were driving to a concert (she was driving). We were in heavy, slow-moving, highway traffic when the folks behind us accidently rear-ended us.  Nothing extreme, just some minor rear bumper damage.  In the car that hit us, was a White couple. They were probably mid to late 20s. 

The male, who was driving, was actually quite reasonable.  He pulled over; and they both exited the car. Julia got out to view the damage and share information. All of this occurred rather amicably and cooperatively.  I got out of our car, surveyed the damage and checked to ensure that everyone was okay. I asked the young man if anyone had hit him from the rear.  He explained that he was fine; and that no one had hit him.

Both parties agreed that for the level of minor damage and the busy location of the accident that it was unnecessary to involve the police.  That’s when I got back into the passenger seat; because I knew that we were almost done.  Ironically, around that same time, a state trooper’s vehicle pulled up.  The first officer got out and through a few simple questions he was able to quickly assess the situation.  After talking to both parties, he was heading back to his cruiser. This was after he told us that we were good to go. Meanwhile, his partner was just getting out of the car.  His partner looked at me in the passenger seat. My wife and the other two parties were still outside the vehicle exchanging phone numbers. He then said a few words to the fist trooper.  After which he comes back to us and says something like, “Okay, let me just get your ID’s so I can enter this into my report, and you’ll be all set.”
Okay, seems reasonable.  But here’s the quirky “misunderstandings.”  The two ID’s that the officer requested were my wife’s (the “victim” and the driver) and myself (the passenger).  The other driver and his passenger were released.  We were told to pull over off the road; while the “guilty” drivers sped away.  I told my wife, while the cop had taken our IDs, that this only occurred after the second trooper noticed that a black male was the only one who didn’t get out of the car.  And consequently this was interpreted as some form of guilt, as opposed to a sign of a person who was trying to make it to his destination in a timely manner. I told Julia that he was running our names through the system to find this “guilt.” 

It was only after we came up “clean” that were we allowed to leave; like the other drivers had done several minutes earlier. Interestingly, they were never asked to pull farther over; like the expectation was that they’d be there for a while.  I also told Julia that if it weren’t for our schedule, and the fact that she might get harassed too, I would’ve asked the officer why he needed to see the my ID—a passenger in a minor accident. Furthermore, I would have asked him why they had not secured similar information from the parties of the negligent vehicle. Remember, there was never a question or dispute over who was negligent. 

Each time I encounter such a situation, I have to consider and weigh the potential risks versus rewards of choosing whether or not to exercise my legal rights.  Had I asked such logical and simple questions at that time, how much longer would we have been there?  And what might they have “found” as they “recorded” our information for their records?  And how else might he have treated Julia or me or both of us?  These are questions that White people rarely, if ever, think about when dealing with law enforcement; but blacks (and other minorities) must heavily consider each and every time we interact with the police.

By the way, my wife checked with the troopers’ barracks the next day; and there was no such report anywhere in the system.  The trooper that she talked with could only shyly nod and apologize to my wife for her experience.  I have also spoken to some law enforcement personnel and their responses were similar. All of this further confirms my convictions. Simply put, we were profiled.

But I’m sure it’s just another “misunderstanding.”

This is the ninth post of my 31-day blogging challenge. Tomorrow I will offer my view of the incident. In the meantime, you can tweet me at Dr_JZ using hash tag #31dbc to share your thoughts and share your stories. 

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