When listening to “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode, my brother would wait for the very end of the song to shout “SHUUUUUT UUUUUP!” from the other room.
Putting my car in “park” in the garage at work, I fumbled around to gather some loose items in the passenger seat to bring in to my desk. While doing so I uncovered a couple small packs of replacement bulbs for tail-lights, blinkers, and even the daylight running lights.
A couple days earlier I drove past a police SUV that was standing in the median of one of the major boulevards of my township. I had seen him there just a few minutes before as I turned into the parking lot of the dry cleaners, went in, handed them my musty unmentionables from my weekend’s Vegas trip; got back in my car and headed to work.
Never a good feeling is looking in your rear-view mirror and see a police vehicle start up from a complete standstill and race within inches of your back bumper. I made it about half a mile, even changing lanes twice to make certain whether he was following me or not. But this guy was a champion NASCAR drafter if not just waiting for the perfect time to light me up. He chose to do so just as morning rush hour had cars clogging the roadway arteries and intersections I needed to pass to get to the highway.
In the left turn lane, with my blinker on, me looking both ways as an unprotected green light signaled my permission to advance, the flashing lights on this hazy and dim early morning lit the inside of my car like a cheap carnival ride. My choices were to pull over either amongst the commuters waiting in line to pump gas on one corner; alongside the ridiculous Starbucks drive thru line that always partially blocks one lane; or a bit further down for that corner in a usually empty area of a parking lot where a small crowd of fitness boot-campers were jumping, dropping, squatting, all while craning their necks as the police lights caught their periphery. There was no hiding. I chose the gas station.
I only sat for a second. The officer got out of his vehicle faster than usual. My experience was that it seemed the cops sat at their computer to look up your plates, check for warrants, pull your recent credit history, and relay their latest farming adventures via social media before marching forth with their ticket books in hand. Caught me off guard, so I quickly turned off my engine “all the way” and placed my hands on the top of my steering wheel before he could place his hand on the butt of his gun.
The sun was out enough to where he didn’t need a flashlight. He stood about two feet away from the driver’s window with his hands on his hips, peering as best he could into the front seats, craning his neck with a “oh no you didn’t” swerve as if he was trying his best to not have to bend at the waist to get a better look inside. It was an awkward few seconds until he got down to “the reason I pulled you over” bizness.
Officer: Morning. I’m Officer ******.
Me: Good morning. (then another awkward pause)
Officer: The reason I pulled you over is… is because… (more neck swerve)
Me: Was I speeding? (Stupid, stupid! But I was just wondering what was going on at this point.)
Officer: No. I noticed you had a tail-light out. In the back. It’s on the driver’s side. I mean the left… or, the passenger side. Can I get you to show me your license and insurance, please. (This wasn’t a question, he reached out really fast with his right hand as if he was throwing a Chinese star at me.)
He went to his police SUV and sat for short while, probably saw that my credit score was at least B+, and came back, this time with his ticket book and leaning closer to my window. “I’ve gone ahead and written you up for the broken tail-light but just as a reminder to get it taken care of. It’s not a ticket, but just a reminder to get it taken care of.”
I signed and drove away thinking it was a valid reason; but kinda weird.
I did not want the hassle of getting stopped again. So, a couple days later I finally had a chance to hit the auto parts store for a new bulb to replace the illegal tail-light. I left my car running, stepped out and walked around to the back of my car to make certain I purchased the correct light. Everything was on. I went back to the driver’s seat and switched my lights to every setting possible so I could see where it failed. It never did. All my lights are working. I ran through it again. Then again. One of the guys from the store who came out to smoke saw my back and forth and came over. “What’s the problem?” I explained to him what the officer pulled me over for. The guy asked me to move my lights switch through the settings again while he watched. He didn’t notice a difference either. He said that maybe the officer meant the front lights. He proceeded to walk to the front of the car, so I indulged him in running through the lights again. I had told him I’d been written a ticket for the rear light being out. He asked to see it and I showed him where the officer scribbled “R/Psgr light out.” Not satisfied, he asked that I watch as he flipped the switch. Still no.
I ended up going inside the store and getting some packs of paired up bulbs for various lights in and around my car in case one does end up going out sometime.
Now, I’m not making any accusations here, but this was the weirdest racial profiling incident I’ve experienced. Other times have been offensive: I was pulled over with my younger brother and a couple of his friends in the early morning and asked over again where we were going, where were we coming from, and so forth. Or the time the officers asked my Caucasian female friend in the passenger seat if she was with me on her own volition. And other times they’ve been scary: Usually a gun drawn. Another time I was ordered to walk backward and lie face-down before a semicircle of aimed shotguns from behind cruisers’ doors. They patted me down and offered a quick explanation of “you looked like a Mexican we’d seen.”
Glad I could help officers.
You can’t do this to brown people!
Light test. Too hot; too dark.
Girl with Chick, Petting Zoo at a School Carnival, near Atlanta, GA. April, 2013.