Back on 10March2017, I was pulled over by the Saint Louis Park Police Department. The light over the rear license plate was burnt out - the person whom I had borrowed the vehicle from knew that the light was burnt out and told me that she was going to replace it. I was under the understanding that she was going to replace it before I borrowed the vehicle, but she did not get around to it. She's a white ruralite who does not understand the importance of having every part of a vehicle being up to specs at all times. Fortunately, I only received a verbal warning.
I was driving a friend of mine home. She's a white suburbanite who has never had to deal with the police before. As we were driving, I noticed a car quickly turn a corner and get up and personal to the rear of us. From the driving style and the way that the headlights were partially blocked, I knew that it was a police car, and I could tell immediately that we were going to get pulled over by how the police officer was following us (speed, distance, starting out with headlights off when turning the corner and then intensity of headlights when they came on). My passenger and I were talking about something, and I said, "we'll continue this after we get pulled over."
*police lights come on*
When the officer was asking us where we were going, my passenger started providing too much information about where we came from. My tension level went up. One thing that we have always been taught is to never give the police too much information - it will always be used against you. There are seven words that we all have to know: "yes, sir," "no, sir," and "thank you, sir." Keep it to a minimum.
The officer went back to the squad car to run my license. My friend dug through pockets to look for her phone. I said, "don't make any sudden movements." My tension level went up again - one false move could get us killed. All it takes is one police officer who fears a person of color to see a sudden move from anybody, even an imagined move, for another one of us to die. She was surprised. "I thought that he was far enough away," she said. Sadly, if you are in visual range, you are not far enough away.
Fortunately, the police officer just returned my license and sent us on our way. My passenger thought that the police officer was being demeaning when he sent us on our way (he had said to me, "do me a favor - get her home safe," and I promised that I would). I, on the other hand, was glad that he did not ask me to step out of the vehicle, or worse. Normally, I'm not afraid of the Saint Louis Park Police Department because I've been working with the Multicultural Advisory Committee, because I'm on a first name basis with the Chief, Deputy Chief, and some of the Officers, and because I know that our Police Department is working hard at equity and cultural competence. It's not like we were pulled over by the Edina Police Department or the Minneapolis Police Department. But I had a passenger who was doing the things that should never be done around police officers, and so instead of merely being nervous, I was actually afraid.
The next morning, I went to a local mechanic to get the light on the car replaced. The person whom I had borrowed the car from did not understand the sense of urgency of having that minor light replaced. For her, it was nothing. For me, it might be an inconvenience, or it might be my life.
I, as a person of color, have been taught how to deal with the police in such a way to maximize survival - to live another day. My friends have not had to worry about police encounters. Such a concept is alien to them. We, as persons of color, are taught different because we live in a different reality.
The ABC-TV show blackish has an important scene that talks about the world in which we live - how persons of color are treated differently by law enforcement, how the deck is stacked against us. They reference the death of Freddie Gray, the death of Sandra Bland, and that even if we do what we are told, that is not any guarantee that we will come out alive. And they have another importance scene that talks about how the deck is stacked against us.
We get told again and again, do not talk to the police. Do not talk to the police. Do not talk to the police. Black people make up 13% of the US population, and yet 40% of the incarcerated population. Hispanic/Latinx people make up 16% of the US population, and yet 19% of the incarcerated population. And numerous studies show that Hispanics/Latinx and Blacks tend to receive harsher sentences than whites, even with comparable backgrounds and crimes.
So we are taught differently. We have to be taught differently if we want to have a chance at living. From racial profiling to stop-and-frisk, from having to deal with mandatory minimums to hoping to get a jury of our peers, we get taught differently from an early age just so that we can survive another day.
Big data may be reinforcing racial bias in the criminal justice system - Washington Post
What It’s Like to Be Black in the Criminal Justice System - Slate
Unfair by Design: The War on Drugs, Race, and the Legitimacy of the Criminal Justice System - Lawrence D. Bobo and Victor Thompson
Mandatory Minimums: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
Minneapolis police shootings since 2000: A deeper look at who and where - Jeff Hargarten, Star Tribune
Crime: Crash Course Sociology #20
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