Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

When a Traffic Stop Isnt Routine ; Peaceful Resolution the Very Definition of Policing

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

When a Traffic Stop Isnt Routine ; Peaceful Resolution the Very Definition of Policing

Article excerpt

Early one December morning in East Baltimore in 2000, I saw a car drive by with its headlights off. For minor traffic violations, for honest mistakes if the driver was sober, polite and carrying a valid license and registration I would usually just issue a warning. I stopped the car. But before I could get on the police radio to call in the stop, the driver a very agitated middle-aged African-American woman, and seemingly middle-class exited the car while shouting into her cellphone. She ended one call and made another. The routine went out of this 1 a.m. stop.

I told her to get back in her car several times, which she finally did reluctantly. I approached and asked for her license. She was on her phone saying she wanted a sergeant and another officer and added: If Im going to get shot, I want it to be recorded because I know this is recorded and I know my rights ... if I get shot, I want it documented.

She wouldnt stop talking, yelling really, at me and into her phone: He just pulled me over for being black. I cant believe this would happen to me. There are all those drug dealers, and youve got to harass me! I could see the parking lights on her dashboard were illuminated, which maybe made her think her headlights were on. I pointed this out to her. She said, ignoring my point, that she was on her way to donate suitcases for charity. After a few more requests, she gave me her license.

As I returned to my car, a call came over the radio for a woman being assaulted by a police officer at my location. I told the dispatcher there was no assault in progress, and the call was related to my traffic stop. Before I had even approached her, much less spoken to her, she had called 911, aggrieved, certain of the injustice she was experiencing at the hands of a white officer.

I thought of this stop while watching the video of Sandra Bland, the young woman who died in jail after she was stopped in Texas for an illegal lane change, a minor violation. Like that scenario, my traffic stop could have gone in any number of directions.

Legally, morally and tactically, I had many options and tools at my disposal. I could have raised my voice. …

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