Let me say this right off. I can’t stand cops. I haven’t since I was about five or six years old. That was when a couple of dumb-ass Mount Vernon Police officers idly stood by and laughed as my father was being taken to the hospital with a stab wound in his left thigh, the result of a fight between him and my mother. I’ve been accosted, stopped, frisked and followed by police in Mount Vernon, the Big Apple, DC, Silver Spring, Los Angeles and Virginia since I turned sixteen back in ’85. Mostly for the simple issue of being an over-six-foot tall Black male and man. Walking while Black in Beverly Hills or on my own campus at Carnegie Mellon. Or Driving While Black in Pittsburgh or Maryland (see my post “Why Black Men Carry A Public Anger” from March ’12)..
To me, the issue is not as simple as a White racist cop finding excuses to harass, intimidate or beat up a Black or Brown person. It actually doesn’t matter what race or ethnicity a police officer happens to be, because their uniform, badge and gun are way more important to them than race. By definition, then, they represent our collective psyche of bigotry when it comes to race, class, gender and criminality. So don’t argue with me about the race of any cop in terms of police brutality and intimidation.
Two Bad Driving Choices
For the first time in about a half-decade, a police office pulled me over. This time, it was half my fault, albeit, it depends on how you define fault. Thursday afternoon, March 14, I was driving down Colesville Road past University Blvd East, to do a left turn on Lorain. From there, I’d meander my way back to the Shell station on the opposite side of University Blvd – it’s cheaper than the one on Colesville. Now, there’s a sign on the median next to the left turning lane that prohibits making a U-turn.
No U-Turn sign & left turning lane, Colesville Rd & Lorain Ave, Silver Spring, MD, March 14, 2013 (2:35 pm). (Donald Earl Collins).
The problem on March 14 was, though, that a utility crew had closed up the street, between their trucks and their cones, making it impossible to make the left turn. I had no warning for this until I reached the front of the left turn lane. By then, I had a blue Toyota Camry behind me, and heavy traffic coming down the adjacent lanes on my side of Colesville.
So I had a choice, and not much time to make one. I couldn’t back up. Cutting across the solid left turning lane line is technically a traffic violation, one which could lead to me being pulled over by police. Not to mention, with so much traffic, I could’ve easily caused a traffic accident.
There wasn’t any traffic coming from the opposing side of Colesville. So I made the U-turn, figuring that this was the only actual choice that made any sense at all. Within three seconds, a siren approached, so I pulled over on the next block, right next to the Colesville Shell gas station. The whole time I’m thinking, “What the heck else was I supposed to do – run over the cones and then jam my car into the back of a utility truck?”
Utility work closing off Lorain Avenue (cones included, Silver Spring, MD, March 14, 2013 (2:37 pm). (Donald Earl Collins).
Admittedly I was nervous, as I consider police to be about as honest as Mafia bosses and city council members beholden to their local Chambers of Commerce. But I also realized that even if the police officer issued me a ticket, I’d have a crapload of evidence in my favor that would lead to a judge dismissing the citation.
The Not-So-Friendly Neighborhood Cop
So I waited. And waited. Then, after five minutes, a police officer named M. Kane (ID # 1382 for those truly interested) came up to my window, one who must’ve been having the worst day ever. Even for a White or Black police officer, he looked like he was ready to brutalize anyone who said more than “Yes, sir! I’ll suck you dick, sir!” to him. That pissed me off right away. Because a traffic violation, especially under these circumstances, didn’t rise to the level of the threatening nonverbal communication that was coming off of him like heat from an exhaust pipe.
I did get a written warning, and then some directions about what do next. The problem was, the officer issued his directions in a low grind of a growl, and I actually didn’t hear all he said. So I asked, reluctantly
“Officer, can I pull over here into the gas station? That’s where I was on my way to when you pulled me over.”
“You can go wherever the hell you wanna go, just pull out over this other car here!,” he yelled, so close to me I could feel the hot air and spit from his mouth as he was yelling. He looked at me with mean, dead eyes, the kind of look that so many folks who look like me have seen from police all these years.
I pulled out, probably a minute or so away from being arresting for assaulting a police officer, because that’s probably what I would’ve done in a parallel universe.
What could I had done, really, to have avoided the situation? Have better hearing? Found my way into a car accident? Not left the house to go get gas and hamburger rolls before going to the Y for a five-mile run? Well, Montgomery County could’ve actually cut off the left turning lane with cones, making folks go elsewhere to make left turns. That is, if they were more interested in safety than in handing out warnings and tickets!
Utility work on Lorain Avenue (slightly different angle – 3rd truck hidden from view), March 14, 2013 (2:38 pm). (Donald Earl Collins).
Beyond that, I don’t have much choice other than to be me. Despite almost every part of me wanting to smash in this police officer’s head with a twenty-five pound weight, the spirit inside said to forgive, and so, I forgave. But that doesn’t mean condone or not write about my experience. After all, if this officer is like this every day, then he’s a walking time bomb, set to go off on the wrong person of color at the wrong time.
I don’t want to hear about how dangerous it is to be a cop. Right now, it’s dangerous to be a teacher or professor, given mass shootings over the past six years. Last I checked, these officers weren’t conscripted into service. They chose their line of work. I don’t expect cops to ever be nice. But professional would be a pretty good standard to meet.