Fear grips me as I see the flash of red and blue lights in
my rear-view mirror. It's 2:00 AM, I'm coming back from a trip. The police car
has been following me for a few miles, but I have been going the speed limit
and driving carefully. My mom's voice rings in my head, Nothing good ever happens after midnight. I'm out past good luck
curfew and cops will pull over anyone who is out at this hour.
It's my first time being pulled over. I try to remember
everything I learned about what to do. I reach for my license and registration.
While waiting for the officer I adjust my window. Down at first, then up with
just enough room to slip my information through. As a young, white female I
need to be cautious.
When the officer approaches I hand him my license and
registration. He stands there staring at me. His hand is on his gun. He tells me to roll my window all the way
down. I find this to be a strange request and my Spidey senses are tingling. I
wonder if I have the right to refuse. I think about how people of color have
been shot for less.
His request doesn't sound right, so I side with intuition and
say, "I'm not comfortable doing that. I have heard stories of people
reaching into cars." There have been reports of fake police officers
pulling women over and attacking them in the neighboring town.
"Stories?" he says, being a police officer he
should be aware of these reports.
"Yes," I stand my ground. My heart is racing. I am
hoping he doesn't ask me to get out of the car. I probably can't deny him that
and I will most likely be attacked if he does; these thoughts are instilled in
me by parents, the media, and self defense classes.
I fidget with my hands that I do not keep in plain sight, as
he tells me the reason he pulled me over. "You threw a cigarette out the
window." His hand is still on his gun.
There must be some mistake. I don't smoke, I've never smoked
a day in my life. I try to tell the officer, but he doesn't believe me. It's my
word against his. I am either being accused of somebody else's crime or he is
making it up. Either way I know I am in trouble.
The officer heads back to his squad car and I sit there
paralyzed with fear. I don't know what's going to happen, but things are not
going well. I'm so afraid I've been stumbling over what I'm supposed to do. I
think about training that I've had and realize I need to keep my hands visible.
Just then an older officer approaches my car. Where did he
come from? Was he here the whole time? This time I keep my hands on the
steering wheel. He shines a light through the crack of the window into my eyes.
He asks if I know why they pulled me over. I should tell him what the other cop
said, that I am being falsely accused. Instead I say "No," and wait
for his decree because I don't know why they pulled me over.
He says the car behind me reported that I was swerving all
over the road. My jaw hangs open in astonishment. The car behind me had been
flashing their lights at me wanting to pass because I was doing the speed limit.
Now they have put my life in danger. The police were taking this stranger's
word for it, since I was not swerving once the car passed me. Now my life and
my future lie in the hands of someone else, I'm at their mercy. I am reminded
of what Ta-Nehisi Coates says in his book Between
the World and Me. My body is not my own, these strangers have the power and
authority to destroy it.
I don't know what to say. I am so frightened and confused
that I forget to tell the officer about the other car. All I can muster is
confessing that I was swerving a little, but within my lane. Fight or flight is
kicking in and I feel trapped in the small space between the steering wheel and
the seat of the car.
After a few more questions he chalks it up to me being tired
and sends me on my way. I know that if I had been black, I would have been
shot. I know in the very depths of my being, in the sadness of my soul. It
rings out like a liberty bell. This is my white privilege, the right to live.