Whenever a gross injustice happens by law enforcement, we see it covered by the national media, but what about the small everyday injustices? The majority of inappropriate incidents that happen with law enforcement are perpetuated against minorities. This very fact brings me to my story:
I am in my late 20′s African American male who has never drank or smoked and has never had a criminal record; simply put, I’m a law abiding citizen who has never been arrested. As a young professional, many times I enjoy working out during the wee hours of the morning at my local 24 hour gym. It is currently July and to date I have been stopped by police officers 5 times coming home from the gym. 5 times in 6 months….that’s almost an average of being pulled over once a month.
During one of the more interesting stops, an officer first asked me, “do you know why I stopped you”. I responded stating, “I have absolutely no idea”. He followed my response by telling me the following “you might be tired, you might have swerved in my lane, and I might have exhibited the characteristics of a drunk driver.” I thought to myself….’I might have exhibited certain characteristics’; this officer outright pulled me over for no definitive reason? As I tell this story please keep in mind that the police officer did not sneak up on me. I was driving the speed limit and used my turn signal to change lanes in order to get into the left hand turn lane. Does this sound like the actions of drunk driver? The officer then followed his questions by informing me that he felt I had an attitude about the situation and he let me know this saying, “we can do this easy way or I can make this hard”. I refused to take the bait and maintained my composure. Eventually, I was let off with a warning for an unknown offense.
In my most recent incident, I was followed by a police officer for about 7 miles, which is about the distance of the gym to my house. Right before the turn on to the street that I live on the officer finally decides to stop me.
The officer notes that I had driven partially in the bike lane on a two-line street. I want you know that the bike lane the “partially drove on” on this 2-lane street is in the middle of the two lanes. So, in order to get from the straight lane to the turning lane I had to cross through the bike lane lane. Now, the offense that the he claims he stopped me for occurred over 4miles after he started following me, which included multiple turns that the officer had taken with me. Do you think the officer had already decided to stop me miles before?
After the officer stopped me I let him know that I lived right on the street that he stopped me on and asked him to verify this by checking the address on my license. Of course, like a student memorizing a textbook, the officer asked me if I was drinking. I told him no I was coming from the gym. Further into the questioning process he asked me, “do I always work weird hours” and then proceeded to give me multiple driving tips. He also let me know that police will stop people for anything around this late hour. Upon hearing this, I thought to myself ‘is there a curfew in effect for 29 year olds in Howard County’? Is their anything I could have done for you not to stop me? I was driving the speed limit and used my proper turn signals, what else could I have done? Was he out right saying ‘we will stop you for anything’? A similar sentiment was expressed when I was stopped by an officer in Baltimore, Md. As in the cases mentioned above, the officer let me go but he was sure to inform me that “around this time we are trying to lock everyone that we can up and we will stop you for anything’.
If police officers are here to Protect and Serve me and other the law-abiding citizens how are we being protected if it’s the officers goal is to lock us up? Incidents like this are the small injustices that young black men face on a daily basis. These are the same injustices that many of our white counterparts ignore and many times claim are just figments of our imaginations. Due to being stopped numerous times, I now have a strong paranoia when driving at night; subconsciously I’m always hoping not to run in the wrong officer. I even go as far as planning out the best routes to travel to get home without being stopped by an overzealous officer. The saddest part is I live in fear of the people that are supposed to protect me. As a nation, I always feel society never address this recurring issue because institutions and organizations refuse to listen to the sentiments of the people that are really affected. So, when you hear stories of injustices like mine, I advise you to listen and act to bring change.
Law abiding citizens like me should no longer have to live in fear of those that have sworn an oath to protect and serve law abiding members of the community. My Community and I deserve the same protection as anyone else.