As I sat there watching Queen and Slim my mind wandered back…
It was a beautiful summer day and we didn’t have a care in the world. Two professional black people taking a break from the grind of litigation. We found ourselves at Lowe’s in Morehead City plant shopping. Satisfied with our selection, we checked out, put the sunroof down, loaded everything in the car and headed back to the house. As we turned onto the highway all we were thinking about was getting the plants to the house without destroying them, lemon drop martinis, and crab legs.
Within seconds of getting on the highway we noticed a police officer behind us. When her blue lights came on our senses automatically heightened. As Summey quickly pulled into the nearest parking lot and placed the car in park we both tried to figure out what would be her reason for stopping us. We did not want to believe for one second it had anything to do with our brown skin and the high-end luxury vehicle we were in. So we waited for the officer to approach and provide us with what we knew would be a logical explanation for the stop. Much to our surprise when she approached she informed us that she stopped us for driving too slow. Yes, that’s right. Driving too slow. While the legal eagle in me wants to explain to you how we were in an area with a lot of traffic and a number of cars directly in front of us, and, around us driving at the same rate of speed as we were, I’m not. I will simply leave it at, we were stopped for driving too slow.
Summey apologized and explained that we just left the Lowe’s parking lot. The officer asked for his driver’s license and registration. When she walked away all I could say was, “Is she serious right now?” Knowing how I think, Summey quickly told me in his Summey way to keep my mouth shut and be cool. After all, it was just a citation.
When the officer returned to the vehicle I kept my equal rights, black lives matter talk to myself. As much as I felt the stop was about more than “driving too slow” I knew Summey was right. There was no way we would win a battle on the side of the road. Instead of issuing a citation and allowing us to go on our merry way, the officer proceeded to ask questions about Summey’s employment status, why we were in the area etc. And then, out of nowhere she asked, “Do you have a weapon in the vehicle?” So much for silence on my part. Before I knew it I had let the words come out of my mouth, “Is she serious right now? Where is this coming from? How do we go from a traffic stop to asking if there is a weapon in the vehicle after you have walked away and left us alone?” Completely focused on appeasing the officer at this point, Summey quickly looked my way to make sure I understood that he wanted to me do nothing more than be quiet. Feeling the heat rise in my face I sat on the passenger’s side and acted like a child who had been warned by their mother not to say another word. As I sat there mumbling under my breath, Summey continued answering the officer’s questions until she was satisfied that he was a harmless black man.
As we safely drove away Summey breathed a sigh of relief. I erupted, completely offended by the officer’s insinuations. When I finally took a breath Summey reminded me of our reality. As a black man he had come to grips with the fact that he might have an encounter with an officer dealing with conscious, or unconscious, biases. In those situations his goal was to come out unscathed and unharmed by any means necessary. His goal was to remain alive. So, if he had to humble himself and put on his brightest smile to keep the peace, even when he had done nothing wrong, he would do just that.
Glued to the movie screen watching Queen and Slim’s life get completely turned upside down in the blink of an eye is what made my mind race back to that beautiful sunny day. If I had insisted on engaging with that female officer would the outcome have been different? If the officer engaged with me when I went on my mini rant would the outcome have been different? If Summey had done anything to trigger the officer would the outcome have been different? I cannot help but wonder.
By the way, no citation was issued for “driving too slow”. I am going to chalk it up to the officer just being kind. But I can’t help but wonder about that too.