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.
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?
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.