A few months ago, I was followed and pulled over by the police after leaving a neighborhood Starbucks. Within a minute of being stopped, the one cop car and one cop that was behind me somehow morphed into four cars, six cops, and a surprisingly cordial police dog.
After (politely) asking me to get out because my “insurance wasn’t matching up,” I sat on the curb, watched as my car was searched, and listened to the cops — who had formed a bit of a semi-circle around me — mindlessly debate which neighborhood coffee shop had the best looking baristas. In fact, if you took away the guns, the handcuffs, the dog, the pepper spray, the batons, the badges, the decades of steadily acrimonious tension between Black males and law enforcement, and my dark brown skin, it could have very easily just been a group of guys shooting the breeze on an unseasonably warm early spring day.
Although I had been stopped by police before, this was the first time the stop wasn’t justified. I wasn’t speeding, I didn’t forget to signal, I wasn’t intoxicated, and my tags were current. I was just "Driving While Black." Surprisingly, being racially profiled didn’t annoy me too much. Getting stopped and questioned by the cops is basically the Black males' Bar Mitzvah. The stories are so ubiquitous that you're almost surprised when it doesn't happen to you. I also wasn’t all that annoyed that, since this stop occurred during rush hour at one of the city’s busiest intersections, (at least) hundred different cars drove past, all staring, presumably wondering what crime I must have committed to warrant so much attention. And, to be quite honest, I wasn’t even that bothered by having to deal with the knowledge that one “threatening” move — reaching for my phone, getting something out of my attaché, picking my nose a bit too violently, etc — could cause these “cordial” cops to consider me a serious threat.
What did annoy the hell out of me? Shortly after being stopped, I asked the officer what prompted him to sprint to his car after seeing me leave a Starbucks parking lot—he was parked right beside me, and as soon as I drove off, I actually saw him sprint to his car—and stalk me for a block before pulling me over? His response:
“There have been a few reports of stolen cars in the area, and I wanted to make sure this wasn’t one of them”
One of the more unnerving byproducts of being African American is the neurosis that comes from living in a predominately White country: a permanent state of half-crazy that can make you unable to make assessments without them being drawn through some race-based mental colander. Basically, anything that happens — good or bad — gets the same “Did that happen (or not happen) because I’m Black?’ treatment. And sometimes, when people attempt to justify and euphemism their way out of just admitting that an action was race-based — when they deny the existence of something you’ve seen and experienced — this neurosis boils over to a slowly crescendoing burn.
When hearing about TJ Holmes getting pulled over by the cops and reading some of the comments attached to the articles written about it — comments where people used any and every justification possible to just not say “Okay, it happened because he was Black” — I was reminded of the burn I felt that day. I remembered how insulted I felt that this cop expected me to believe that he believed that neighborhood coffeehouses are where car thieves choose to hang out all day. I remembered how tempted I was to say “motherf*cker, google me if you don’t believe me” when he questioned that I had been there working and writing for the past five hours. And, to be honest, I remember how I pitied him for the fact that he couldn’t just come out and admit “Okay, man. I stopped you because you’re a young-ish Black guy driving a new edition of a car that many drug dealers also seem to own. If you were White, or if you were driving a less ostentatious car, I wouldn’t have followed you. But, since neither of those things are true, here we are.”
Anyway, after a dozen or so minutes — and after learning that my insurance did in fact “match up” — I was allowed to get back into my car, and I drove away.
I don’t know TJ Holmes. But, if he’s anything like me — and, after reading his tweets, I’m assuming he may be — I can imagine what may have been going through his head after his latest episode of "Driving While Black."
”I’m tired, and I just want to go home.”