On August 1, 2020, I was pulled over by the police while leaving a Target parking lot in my wife’s SUV. For a black man in America today, this experience can change your life or take it. When the police officer pulled me over I had no clue as to why, all I could do was stay calm, be respectful, and not make any sudden movements. He came to the window and told me that he pulled me over for two reasons. The first reason was that my registration was expired. This was fair, but I explained to him that our state had extended the deadline to get the registration up to date because of the pandemic (I’m pretty sure he knew this already). He told me that he understood and didn’t press the issue. He went on to tell me that the second reason that he pulled me over was for a blown brake light. It was at that moment that I remembered my wife telling me that her brake light was out.
After the explanation of why I was pulled over, the officer proceeded to ask me for my license and proof of insurance. I asked him if I could open up the armrest to get my license, he approved. I gave him the license and asked him if I could open the glove box to get our new insurance card since we had just switched over to a new company (I usually keep that info on my phone). This is when things got pretty weird for me. My hands began to shake uncontrollably and my heart started pounding. I didn’t know what this officer was thinking. Did he hate black people? Was he going to shoot me for no reason? These were the thoughts that were going through my mind at the time. This guy could have been the nicest person in the world, and I was thinking that he could try to harm me instead of performing a normal traffic stop. He didn’t give me a reason to think like this, it's just the thing that goes through a black man’s mind when he gets pulled over by a white cop, especially in today’s climate.
I opened up the glove box and pulled out a stack of papers, by this time I believe the officer noticed my hands shaking. The police officer told me that he was going back to his car and to just hold my hand up or honk the horn when I found the insurance card. I told him that I would, but the only problem was that I couldn’t find the damn insurance card. By this time, my anxiety is through the roof because I can’t find the card, and I don’t know how to tell him that. How could a simple Target run for some razors and Oreo cookies for my kids turn into me fearing for my life? I was pretty sure that we forgot to put the new card in this car at that point. I had to attempt to talk my way out of this situation. I saw the officer get out of his car and head back to mine to get an update on my progress. The only thing that I could think of was to call my wife on speaker phone while he approached the car.
She picked up the phone at the same time that the officer arrived back to my vehicle. I immediately asked her where the insurance card was. She could tell that something was wrong because my voice was shaky and cracking. She was confused until I told her that I was pulled over and that I needed the insurance card. I just need the insurance card, please tell me where the insurance card is, this what I kept repeating. We both thought that the card was in the glove box, but it wasn’t. This was nobody’s fault, shit happens. We just both assumed that our card was in the glove box, which is where it always is, just in case we can’t pull up our info on the app.
While my wife was frantically shuffling through papers trying to locate this document, something happened that probably got me out of the situation. I heard the voice of my young daughter calling my name. I didn’t respond because I didn’t know how to disguise the panic in my voice. She would continue “daddy? is this daddy? did you leave the store yet daddy? I love you, daddy”. After my daughter’s repeated failed attempts to get me to say something, the officer looked at me and said that I was free to go and to make sure that I organized the glove box so that I could access it right away next time.
I pulled off so fast that I had to remind myself to slow down before I got pulled over again by a police officer who may not be as lenient as the one that I had just encountered. I was still shaking at an uncontrolled pace. Yes, I was free to go this time, but was I really free? Things could have gone bad, extremely bad, but I was able to go home in the end.
I got out of this situation without a scratch, but I still realize it may not always end up this way. This is the fear that I have. This is the reason that I was shaking uncontrollably. I have been provided with numerous examples of the mistreatment of black men at the hands of law enforcement officers in this country. This is a real thing. Of course, I was respectful, didn’t raise my voice, or make sudden movements. But if I had raised my voice or gave an attitude to that officer, or even went as far as to walk away from him, would he have been well within his rights if he decided to shoot me 7 times in the back? It seems that a lot of people who don’t look like me would agree that he would be.
Why am I scared?
I ask myself why am I scared almost every day of my life. Why am I scared to shop without my family? Why am I scared when I see the police a few cars behind me in traffic? Why am I scared when I am walking/jogging outside at night or in the early morning? Why am I never at peace in life? Why do I have to research different cities that I potentially want to visit? Unfortunately, the only answer that I can come up with is because I am a black man living in a country that doesn't seem to be too fond of me. It is exhausting to be a black man in America. The only people who seem to understand this are black people.
I went to private schools from the third grade until I graduated high school. I then went on to earn a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha WI, the same place that the Jacob Blake attempted murder took place. I am very familiar with the racist activity that occurs in that city. After undergrad, I attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to earn an M.A. Regardless of the education that I received, I know that I am looked at in a negative light. Racist people don’t see an educated black man when they look at me, they only see a black man who they hate for whatever reason. This is why I am scared. I went to school, pursued my passions, and continue to contribute to society, and yet still, I will never be looked at as an equal.
“We’re the ones that need to be scared. We’re the ones having to talk to every black child. What white father has to give his son a talk about being careful if you get pulled over? It’s just ridiculous.” -Doc Rivers