Photo via Wiki Commons
"He would get a low-paying job, make some child support payments, fall behind on them, get fined, miss a payment, get jailed for a few weeks, lose that job due to absence, and then start over at a lower-paying job. From all apparent evidence, he was a decent schlub trying to make things work in a system engineered to make his life miserable and recast his best efforts as criminal behavior."
—Reporter Jack Hitt, on Walter Scott (an unarmed black South Carolina man fatally shot by a North Charleston police officer)
Fifty-two times in 14 years.
That is how many times Philando Castile was pulled over for supposed traffic violations during his driving life. I mean, what are the odds a black person can outlive that kind of regular police interaction? Walter Scott couldn't do it and he was regularly stopped for small infractions like a busted tail light, the same supposed beginning that led to Castile's end on July 6 in Minnesota.
This is what I was thinking about as I drove 10 miles above the speed limit toward an organizing meeting last week. That right there is privilege.
One guy. Fifty-two times. Do you know what that is? That is filling quotas. That is profiling. That is harassment. Fifty-two times is a tax.
Think about it for a minute: When a person is pulled over, he is made late for work, or late to pick up his kid, or late for something important like, oh...I don't know, the life that he's trying to live with dignity.
Then he gets a ticket. That ticket requires traffic school, which requires time away from work. That ticket may require a possible court appearance which also requires time away from work. Then, if that ticket isn't dismissed, there is a fine to be paid which is not cheap.
After 52 stops, if he hasn't lost his job, he now has to work overtime to come up with money to pay the fine. If he doesn't have the money to pay the fine, there are penalty fines on the overdue fine creating a whole new and larger fine. We can all totally relate to this vicious cycle, amirite?
Or no, we cannot. Because we white folks do not experience 52 times. Most of us don't even contemplate 52 times or the financial, social and psychological implications of 52 times. Me? I've experienced 52 minus 50 times.
The first time I was pulled over was when I was younger and cuter and I used these facts to talk my way out of a ticket. I was quite proud of myself at the time, and it made for a good dinner party story. Today, I'm just straight up embarrassed.
The second time I was stopped was more recent. I'd pulled into a gas station to fill up when I noticed the flashers behind me. According to the officer, I'd rolled through a stop sign three blocks back. This was debatable and I said as much. The officer took my license and walked away. He came back a few moments later and asked if I'd pulled into the station to get gas.
Did you know you only have to have a GED to be a police officer? Nothing against GEDs; they're totally respectable. But perhaps we should require a bit... more of those with so much unchecked and overprotected power.
Anyway. It took all the strength of a wanna-be Olympic Crossfitter whose bodybuilding, Paleo-eating girlfriend is trapped under six tractor tires â€‹for me not to say something completely sarcastic.
I bit my tongue and nodded.
Then he said to me: "Why don't you go ahead and fill up while I run your plates so you're not inconvenienced."
Go ahead and fill up...so you're not inconvenienced. This is a super sad true story.
In the end, the cop gave me a warning and I knew—like, really knew— the way I know I hate Crossfit and that Paleo is the new socially acceptable eating disorder, that the same gesture of convenience would never be offered to a Philando Castile or a Walter Scott.
On the same day Castile's dreadful death was live streamed by his girlfriend on Facebook, a friend of mine, a university professor who is black, was pulled over. He was leaving a class he'd just taught, but that didn't matter because you can't degree your way out of racial profiling.
According to the officer who stopped him, my friend had failed to come to a complete stop at a stop sign. This was debatable but my friend didn't say as much. What isn't debatable is that this was his sixth stop. This year.
And here is where my white lady naiveté reminded me that my friend's experiences and my own are totally, utterly, painfully, stupidly, ridiculously, outrageously, unjustly different.
"Did you get a ticket?" I asked, settling in one breath the age-old question as to whether there are stupid questions.
If my friend has been pulled over six times this year and we're barely halfway through it, it doesn't take GED math to calculate how many times he's experienced this during his driving life.
That number may be in the vicinity of 52. That scares the fuck out of me, and it is not okay.