Friday, January 9, 2009

Flashing Lights

What do flashing blue and red lights in your rearview mirror make you do?

My stomach clenches up. Heart rate increases, sweat forms on my palms. I quickly scan back over my past few minutes of driving time to see if I've done anything wrong. Did I come to a complete stop at the corner? Was that last signal yellow or red? Is all my paperwork up to date. I chastise myself for becoming anxious, I remind myself that I have a right to drive my car and live my life. I prepare myself for a humiliating confrontation and quickly review my rights as a citizen.

I don't truly relax until those lights, and the police officer controlling them, pass me by.

Do you fear the flashing lights? How about the officers controlling them?

Do you wonder if they'll pull you from your vehicle? Do you fear that they may rough you up a little bit if you don't seem suitably contrite or respectful?

Or, are you afraid of something much more serious.

If you're a black man, you might worry about dying. It's an understandable fear. For black men, interacting with the police is an activity fraught with peril. Sure, most of the time both parties go on their way without violence or serious conflict. But, far more often than with any other group, these exchanges turn ugly, and it's typically black men who suffer the most.

Oscar Grant III died the last time he met police. So did Adolph Grimes II and Sean Bell. There have been countless others over the years. Black men, some of them good men, some of them bad, who have had violent interactions with the police. Young or old, rich or poor, educated or ignorant, it seems like no subset of black men is immune. Those flashing lights haunt us all.

Some people scoff at the idea that black men are in any special sort of danger. Innocent people are safe, they say. If you're not doing anything wrong, what do you have to worry about?

Flashing lights.



blackgirlinmaine said...

I'm not a Black man but as a Black woman who is the mother of a 17 yo boy, yeah, I fear the flashing lights as well. While statistically the odds are in my favor that I probably won't get killed by the po-po, my son might. I also have had the pleasure of being harrassed as a passenger while riding with my white husband.

It was early in our marriage when he discovered his life had changed by marrying me. Cop stopped us as part of a road check but rather than ask any thing of substance, cop grilled him about me...guess the cop didn't really think I was his wife.

So long story short, while many are running around like we are in some sort of post racial utopia since Obama was elected sadly that is not real at all.

Lolo said...

I lived in LA for years and well, I was far from angelic. Suffice to say, I had a few encounters with flashing lights. It was a slap of reality. There are police who have no issue with breaking the law while wearing the blue.

The cop never presumes a suspect's innocence before being proved guilty, and anyone they encounter is at least a potential suspect.

That's what so many, MANY people did not even begin to grasp about the OJ trial. Until you witness, firsthand, a policeman flat out lying to help make a case you have no grasp of how truly powerless your taxpaying, law abiding ass is in the face of "authoriTAY". Add to that the fact that your skin, accent, wardrobe, location, whathaveyou, automatically filters you into an even deeper pool of suspects and the flashing blue lights do indeed cause your hands to sweat, your eyes to blink, heart to race and speech to stutter and you are well and truly out on the thin ice.

Yeah, even as a middle aged, strictly law abiding, bourgie housewife I do indeed make a conscious effort to keep it cool when I have any contact with police. Even the ones that are my neighbors.

Deacon Blue said...

Even as a white person, my stomach clenches too, though to a lesser extent and with fears of a more sedate variety.

But ever since marrying my wife (black) I'be noted a sharp increase in the number of times I've been pulled over and a decrease in the level of respect I get.

So, I can understand where a black person, especially a black male, would be saying a few prayers when those flashing lights appear, not matter how pure his life has been.

Big Man said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences and feelings.

Honestly, I haven't been harassed too much by the police, but I chalk that up to the amazing blessings of God more than anything else. Many of my friends get harassed, my brother has been harassed several times, yet strangely I've been spared.

But, I deal with cops all the time and I see their mindsets up close. Like Lolo said, most people really do not realize how vulnerable they are. Once you come to that understanding it's difficult to every remember Officer Friendly from DARE.

MacDaddy said...

Big Man, thanks for bringing this out. I guess I didn't know how to do it on my blog. But, yes, I do fear those lights. Those lights take me back to the late 80's when
I was taking some kids home in my SUV and I saw those lights. I also three or four cop cars surround my vehicle. I heard one cop yell out a command, "Who's in the van! Who's in the van, nigger!" The kids started yelling and cursing at the cops, so I had to stop and tell the kids "Shut up! He's trying to provoke you. Let me do the talking." I told them who was in the van and said I was a counselor and I was taking them home from a meeting. The cops left but now without one calling me monkey...It was the look of pure hatred in their eyes that stays with me and will stay with me til I die.

Big Man said...


Damn. A monkey and a nigger?

Wow. Black people understand Christ's forgiveness better than any other people in America.

Darth Whitey said...

Even though I'm white, I'm scared to death of cops. They have the power to do anything they want.

Once though, I was taking a walk at 2 AM on a rainy night along the side of a busy road in a wooded area that was next to my apartment (yes I'm insane, I was a night owl for my work and liked walking in the rain with a parka.) Anyway, this cop car stopped behind me, and one of the cops came out. Naturally I stopped and one of the two came over to me. While pointing his flash light straight at me, he made it sound like he was just having a pleasant "hey how ya doin? Taking a late night walk are ya? Can I see your ID btw?" but man I was so scared they'd bring me in for vagrancy or whatever, oi! The other cop did some check on my ID in the squad car while the first officer kept chatting with me. He never took his flash light off me, I guess to make sure I didn't pull out a gun. Then they gave me my ID back and left but I haven't left the house past 9 PM for a walk ever since. Think I'd have been brought in had I been black? heh. A very upscale white/Asian neighborhood. I always wonder if that was even legal what they did, stop me like that and ask me for my ID. Is it?

Raving Black Lunatic