Sometimes fear is the four-letter F word. Red and blue lights flash in my rear view and my pulse quickens. I glance over to make sure my glove compartment box is still there, as if, at the sound of the siren, it would have magically vanished with my papers in it. I roll the window down, pull my car to the shoulder of I-75 , and wait to hear the crunch of boots on the gravel.
I am shaking, but I have never not trembled in the presence of cops. This is normal. The state trooper is a pudgy, pasty man; the wide brim of his uniform hat casts a shadow onto his forehead. We exchange curt pleasantries and then he begins my interrogation.
“What brings you here to Georgia, ma’am?”
“I’m visiting family.”
“Oh, that’s nice. Where you headed?”
“Where you coming from?”
Now, I know he ran my Florida tags. This was beyond Southern hospitality and creeping toward inquisition. But I answer anyway. “I drove from Tallahassee, Florida State.”
“Oh, that’s too bad! I’m a Dawgs fan!” I do not care to laugh, but I chuckle with him. He still has not mentioned why he stopped me.
“Well, ma’am, I noticed that the tint on your windows is a bit dark here. You may want to get them lightened up to avoid any trouble.” His voice is faux-serious.
“Oh, thank you!” I mumble something else and he hands me back my ID cards. I drive off still shaken, bristling. My windows were factory tinted by Toyota; there’s no way they were dark to the point of being illegal.
My family deduces later that because of my out-of-state plates, relatively new car, and brown skin, I was profiled as a possible drug mule from Florida.
That was my last run-in with a police officer. By most standards, I think it went well, but I do not know if this impassable fear that still seizes me is unreasonable.
You see, I can count on one hand how many negative interactions I’ve had with law enforcement. The worst one involved a cop car speeding past me while I tried to wave it down after a vehicle break-in. The cop that did arrive insinuated it was my fault my car was peed in because I was in an arcade at midnight and not at home.
The other encounters have all been positive. I sat in tears one morning, on the off ramp of a different Interstate with a bum car that cut off mid-commute. A Tampa policeman pulled up behind me and asked me if I was all right. I don’t remember his face, but his voice was soft and I was not afraid of him. Another cop sat with me and waited for my boyfriend to arrive after a collision. And yet another officer checked to make sure I could handle a flat tire.
I wave at cops sometimes, when I forget that they can kill me if I forget not to reach for my lipstick. It is the greatest American tragedy for the innocent to cower like convicts before those sworn to protect.
I don’t know if being a diminutive black woman affords me any privilege. Whether or not it is only unarmed, young black men who have their names carved on cops’ bullets. I think about the death of Jonathan Ferrell, shot 10 times while seeking help after a car accident. I wonder if he ever waved at cops, waved them down for help, waved to say hello. I could say, “I am not threatening,” but this would insult the scores of black men gunned down in the act of being black. Armed with only brown skin, we are all non-threatening. We are all deserving of help.
And so I ask, should I f#@% the police or not? Because it feels painfully unfair for me to trust them when my brothers clearly cannot.