Of Privilege & Police (#168)

My father was an authoritarian. When I screwed up, the consequences were swift. That’s how I expect justice to roll.

I got my first ticket when I was 16 in suburban Virginia. I could have contested it. I didn’t. I sniffled. I paid the ticket. I endured a weeklong harangue by my father.

I got my second ticket speeding on the border of Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

I picked up a third zooming down the empty highway in Kansas. (Hooray for radar detectors — I was able to slow down to 82 mph before the state trooper nailed me.)

I never understood the women who bragged about crying their way out of tickets. I don’t have it in me – I broke the law, I deserved the ticket. End of story.

The first time I got pulled over in South Central Los Angeles, I was speeding. My registration was current, but the new tags had either gotten lost or been stolen in the mail. Mr. Police Officer checked my registration, told me to contact the DMV and get new tags, and sent me on my way. With no ticket. I was elated, but puzzled. How come I didn’t get a speeding ticket?

Over the next few years, police pulled me over twice more (for not making complete stops at stop signs). My conversations with the police officers went like this:

Policeman: “Why didn’t you stop?”

Me: “I’m so sorry, so sorry, I was in a hurry, but I shouldn’t have been. Totally my fault. I understand.” I hung my head and braced myself for the ticket.

Policeman: “Okay, then, don’t do it again.”

That was it. No ticket. The policemen drove away. They never even ran a check. They gave no official warnings.

Just last year, I made an illegal right turn on red. I make that turn all the time and hadn’t realized that the city had recently put up signs making a right on red illegal. A motorcycle cop pulled me over. He told me what I’d done. I apologized and awaited my ticket.

He said, “I only pulled you over because I was right behind you and all the other drivers started looking at me like, ‘Aren’t you going to do something?’ Don’t worry, you’re free to go.”

No ticket. Again.

What the hell, Los Angeles? I mean, it’s not that I want a ticket. But I broke the law. I expect a ticket. I expect my insurance rates to go up. That’s the deal.

I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t get tickets anymore.

Had cops stopped giving out tickets?

No. I saw plenty of people pulled over on the side of the road. I even saw people sitting on the curb, handcuffed. They were almost always people of color.

I am white.

The locations where I’ve gotten traffic tickets? Also white. Snow white, in fact. If the cops there didn’t give out speeding tickets to white people, they wouldn’t be handing out ANY tickets.

*****

A frustrated fellow Tweeter recently posed this question: 

Here’s my best answer.

I believe privilege and geography blind white people to racism, especially when it comes to policing. If you’re white, you’re mostly treated with respect by law enforcement. You don’t get pulled over as much. You don’t get stopped and frisked. If you do get a ticket, a) you deserved it, and b) the police still treat you respectfully. Because of your experience, you think that the police are fair. You think this is how they treat everyone.

If you live in 95% Caucasian state, like New Hampshire, almost everyone is treated the same way. There are no people of color sitting on the curb to make you reconsider your view on racial profiling.

So you think anyone who gets jailed or shot must’ve been doing something wrong. Not like you, of course. You were smart about it, and stayed respectful and obedient with the police officer. Other people probably argued. Or had drugs in the car. Or outstanding warrants.

This is how privilege perpetuates itself – by making us white people think that we earned our good fortune. It has everything to do with our exemplary behavior, not our lack of melanin. It’s not about race, white people will argue: “It’s all about obeying and respecting the law.”

Really? Then what about Sandra Bland’s traffic stop and subsequent death?

Walter Scott? Samuel DuBose? Devin Guilford?

What about a published report showing that drivers of color in California are pulled over much more frequently and searched, even “without an observable traffic violation?”

C’mon, my white brethren. You can’t hide from racial bias anymore. Not even in New Hampshire. Cellphones are everywhere, and it’s illegal for the police to order civilians to stop recording. Social media and YouTube have made bodycams and dashcams available to everyone with an internet connection.

Fellow white people: if you think nothing is about race, you’re just being willfully ignorant.

Click on a link.

Do a serious rethink.

Because people of color are dying for you to know that, yes — it IS about race.

Author’s Note to Fellow White People: If you clutter up the comments with fake news or flippant memes, I will use the delete button. Just like my father’s house when I was growing up, this is not a democracy.

You wanna debate?

Great. Pick a reliable news source with a good reputation that has been fact-checked. Don’t be bringing your bullshit Breitbart opinion pieces here.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

18 thoughts on “Of Privilege & Police (#168)”

  1. Very well said Autumn. I will always be sharing this piece.

    Richard also got pulled over in Utah. Like Andy, he was going over 90 MPH. Surprisingly, we didn’t get a ticket–probably because he thought I was white. Plus, I told him I was also from Utah… maybe that earned me some pity points.

    Although he let us go, we had the weirdest conversation:
    “what kind of relationship do you two have?”
    “uhhh he’s my boyfriend?”
    “how long have you two been together?”
    *Mary thinks: None of your damn business wtf!”

    Very weird encounter.

    Cops in Utah like to hand out tickets like crazy as well. I think Utah follows the same principle as NH–when everyone’s white, the treatment is fair.

    1. Maybe that clueless cop thought Richard was stealing you for nefarious purposes?

      I’m impressed Richard didn’t get a ticket. My dad gets ’em, even when he was driving his wife home with a shattered ankle! Must’ve been because you were so young and cute.

      1. Haha, yes, Richard the human trafficker. Or perhaps the cop thought I was a hooker. Either way, really odd way of thinking considering we were near bryce/zion and we were obviously tourists.

        Later in California, Richard got a ticket for speeding on the freeway…. (which is crazy, cause everyone in California speeds) so your theory holds up!

        Wow the cop gave your dad a ticket when your mom had a shattered ankle!? What a jerk..!!

        1. Does Richard ever get mistaken for Mexican? Andy does. People talk to him in Spanish, even.

          Well, I think my dad is kind of like me: “Hand over the ticket, I make no excuses. Just ignore that woman with all the ice on her ankle screaming in the backseat.”

          1. Haha really!?! Does he!? Can Andy wow them and speak Spanish back?

            Richard doesn’t get Spanish, but sometimes he gets Tagalog or Vietnamese.

            I get spoken to in Spanish A LOT in LA. Maybe if I went to Mexico or another Latin country I would blend in.

          2. I did point out that I was hurrying because she was recovering from surgery to fix a broken leg and shattered ankle. That didn’t stop him from giving me the ticket.

  2. Very well said, and like the others, I will also be sharing the post. It never is about race or how you “earned” your “privilege”. It really is an unconscious stream of cultural biases running over there and also, here in Australia. It is amazing how many times you didn’t get a ticket – sounded like every day was your lucky day but of course, it is too good to be true.

    I don’t know if they are that biased in Australia. Last year my brother was over the speed limit by 1km/hr and the police pulled him over. Ticket straightaway from the white officer. No argument. And my brother paid up. Fair enough my brother was over the limit, but there is no questioning how long that police car had been chilling beside the road.

      1. Yep. In Australia if you go over 1km/hr and you are unlucky, you’ll get a ticket. I remember my brother paid it straight up for almost $300. It was his first time and if he had contested it, he probably would have gotten away with it. He couldn’t be bothered.

  3. My husband hates driving in Texas and especially New Orleans. He had the same cop give him a ticket TWICE. How much was he over the speed limit? One mph. “51 on a 50.” :O!!! I swear, the cop was just following him to see when he screws up again. xD

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