I was running late to Chattanooga State on Friday, February 9th, 2019. Just before hitting the west entrance, I was stopped by an officer. Boy was I nervous; my hands began to sweat as I put them on the steering wheel. The officer approached the passenger side window and asked me if I had any idea why he stopped me. I gave a reason. He was firm as he explained why he pulled me over. He asked for my information; I asked for permission to search for my wallet.
My mind drifted to the images of how traffic stops have gone wrong. I could die today. I’m black. He’s white. I’m nervous. Does my phone look like a gun? Should I touch it or not? Should I press record? Am I safe?
I looked up at the officer and I read the badge on his chest. I could see his eyes through the glare in his sunglasses. He appeared calm yet I didn’t want to reach for anything. I told the officer, “I’m sorry. I’m just nervous”. I hated admitting that out loud; I immediately wanted to tell him that I wasn’t racist. Somehow, I felt like he wanted to verbalize the same thought to me.
Ahhh... I found my wallet in the bottom of my shopping bag. I handed over my identification. A few minutes later I was given a warning along with an explanation.
I wasn’t mistreated.
I didn’t die.
I learned something.
I thanked the officer.
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Ms BrendaJean from Ooltewah, your experience is an example of what well-trained, professional and honorable policing is suppose to be about. Hopefully, it becomes the normal in Chattanooga as well as across the nation. Believe me when I say your experience hasn't been the normal for many, especially people of color, as far back as most of us can remember. For my perspective, that's decades.
I've given numerous examples of all things that can go wrong and have gone wrong on numerous occasions, even when no laws were being broken - unlike in your situation where you admit you were breaking the traffic laws. These encounters that often spiral out of control are not prone to happen just in Chattanooga either, but have taken place across the nation at times with tragic and deadly outcomes.
Here's another example of one such encounter that could have turned into a tragedy if the citizen hadn't been the one to keep a level head.
A young military service man was on his way home, driving from a military base in Alabama, when a police patrol car pulled up alongside him at a traffic light or stop sign (I can't remember which now). As they both proceeded through the traffic light or stop sign, the police pulled in behind the young serviceman and proceeded to closely follow him for several blocks. The young driver, active military at the time, turned on his blinker and pulled into a business parking because it was obvious the officer was tailing him and planned to pull him over at some point anyway (rule number 1. Never allow yourself to be pulled over in an isolated area, stay visible (a rule we were taught and passed on having been born into the Jim Crow South) - which the young man did).
Well, the cop pulled in behind him. First, the excuse for following the young serviceman in the first place was 1. "You didn't look over and acknowledge my presence when I pulled up beside you." No kidding. Not looking over and acknowledging a cop is alongside can be a 'suspicion' warranting probable cause to get you pulled over? Not traffic laws broken there. Not that the young man was focusing on or paying any attention to who was beside him in the first place, or at first even saw the cop beside him. How many of us look over at stop signs or traffic lights to acknowledge the person who pulls up beside us? I don't or rarely do. I'm sure most people wont or don't pay much attention to the person in the car next to them.
The second excuse. "You turned on your blinker less than five feet before turning into the parking lot." No crap. The cop could actually measure points of distances from inside his car without any measuring tools? Get out of here.
Then it all nearly went downhill and that tribalism mentality kicked in(In the beating death of Dr. Prater's son, the first cop on the scene had matters under control. It was when other cops, one black, showed up at the scene that the tribalism surged forward) when two other cops showed up, one white one black (always have a black cop on the scene, especially when the citizen is black, to back your story when there might be a beat down or worse in the making).
Well, it was left up to the level-headedness of that young serviceman who was able to diffuse the encounter, and not the hot-headed foolishness of those three cops (two white/one black) who failed miserably when it came to being professional, honorable and well trained.
Hopefully, your experience becomes the norm and these are not do good/feel good moments in an attempt to clean up a sordid image and reputation. Hopefully too, should there be a next time you're stopped 'for speeding' or just existing, the outcome will be the same. You'll survive, unmarked, to write yet another glorifying police/citizen encounter.
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Brenda Jean AdamsonCothran wrote in to tell us about her positive experience as a black woman's encounter with a white police officer and naturally Brenda Washington had to write in and counter it with negativity.
Unfortunately I don't believe racism with die out in my time or even in my great-grandchildrens' lifetimes. However, if it did, what would Brenda Washington do without all of her race baiting?
“Let’s practice motivation and love, not discrimination and hate.” -Zendaya
Ms. Washinton needs to adapt that as her new mantra.