Saturday, November 11, 2006

Back to Reality

I've been struggling with this post in more ways than one. First, blogger has given me a fit about uploading any pictures and second, well, I really wasn't sure if I wanted to violate one of the rules I made for myself when I started the blog in August. What's the rule? To avoid talking politics and race - two totally unavoidable pain in the ass realities that confront me everyday. My blog would be a place where I could perhaps talk about the aesthetics of life and all of its beauty. Yeah right. Sometimes though, things happen that make the point that in order to fully appreciate beauty, sometimes, it's important to understand its antecedent, that is, what is going on the in life of the artist that makes their art more triumphant. Please, I'm no artist, I knit, I cook a little but I do see art in just about everything except crap like this -

I got to collect these one evening on the infamous Garden State Parkway.

I was returning home with my oldest son from music rehearsal in Princeton. Remember he was selected to sing with the NJ Jazz Choir. Each Tuesday, I drove him down (a 1 1/2 hour drive each way) after school and hung out in Princeton for 4 hours. I got to do some crazy knitting, browse through great book stores and eat lots of ice cream.

Returning home from the last rehearsal, at around Clifton, NJ, I get pulled over by a NJ State Trooper. As I await my sentence, I notice that there is not one cruiser but 3 lined up behind me. In all of the years that I have been traveling in New Jersey, I have never had this experience before. I read about it too many times - about the legions of black people who have met their demise by the hands of these troopers - thrown in jail, property seized, sometimes death....

My mind was fighting reality, intellect and emotion. There was that time I was caught in a freak snow storm nearly 10 years ago on the Garden State Parkway and I was praying to see troopers. There were so many accidents and it was freezing outside. I got to my destination in 5 hours in what was a 2 hour drive and I felt guilty that I couldn't help the dozens of accidents I passed. I was grateful that we lived in a society that provided assistance just for the asking - EMS and troopers.

Back to reality, the trooper comes to my window and one of the three cruisers drives up to block me in. I have a 17 year old boy with me, in dreadlocks. He is asking me a million questions while seething and I tell him that this was a good experience for him so that he will know how this whole thing goes down and he'll know exactly how to behave if it should happen to him. My child was enraged at the notion that he got to see his mother humiliate herself in order to keep her car, keep her freedom, keep her life. Yeah I know what you all are thinking, it's just a traffic stop. No, it is never just a traffic stop in the reality of the lives of black people.

The trooper comes to my window after maybe 10-15 minutes. He's flashing his flashlight throughout the van while another trooper at my son's window is keeping an eye on him with her (I think it was a 'her') flashlight.

"You cut me off." Trooper 1

"Officer, I was at a dilemma. I was in the passing lane to avoid someone who was driving too close to me and I was merely trying to pass into your lane, grateful to have seen you, just in case the guy on my tail decides to follow me. My dilemma was what to do, do I speed up to 65 in order to pass into your lane at a better distance or do I pass into your lane at 60 MPH, just 5 miles above the speed limit?"

"You could have caused an accident." Trooper 1

"You? I could have caused you to have an accident?" I'm thinking what crap that is, these guys know how to drive like stunt men, this guy is pissed that I cut him off.

I decide not to argue and pray that my son stays quiet too. One half hour later, I get three tickets -

Ticket one: Hazardous driving (interpreted to mean - cutting off cruiser)
Ticket two: Failing to produce registration (I was so nervous about getting pulled over - and knowing that they don't have the best reputation for safety for people who look like me and my son, I can't find the damn registration)
Ticket tree: Not having an updated inspection sticker (yup, he was right on that one. Getting the van inspected slipped my mind after having paid $1500 for new breaks and a heater - I had such sticker shock that day that I totally forgot the inspection)

Before the trooper turns to leave, I ask him -

"Officer, I have a young son here just learning to drive. How would you advise me to tell him what happened here?"

"Speed limit is 55, you don't cut people off."

Wow, that was helpful.

I will be going to court. I ask you, who in their right mind would cut off a NJ State Trooper? The question I have for the judge - "why would a black, 47 year old mother of 3 driving with her dreadlocked 17 year old son pick 9pm at night to do such a thing? Didn't the trooper know I had visions of this dancing in my head all the way home -

My Rhinebeck poncho that I bought at Briar Rose yarns. Alpaca and wool. Delicious.


Calling Kahlo said...

I totally applaud your post. I have never experienced what you write about and I think a lot of people are ignorant that racial profiling does exist. When I drive through my parent's predominantly white town I am always curious who gets pulled over and requires three police cars usually Black Americans -how interesting. I hate that these things happen. It is through people sharing their experiences and others open to listening that hopefully change can occur.

Jeanine said...

So sorry... I would be going to court too.

I also had 3 police cars behind me when I was stopped. I was merely 2 minutes from my home. Don't know if it's a NJ thing.

It's funny you bring up the whole profiling issue. Because I clearly recall asking my husband do you think I'm being pulled over for DWB?? The police car had been following behind me B4 I gave them cause to stop me.

However in my case, I WAS at fault. I think. I turned from a rt lane into a left lane TWICE. I was stopped after I did it a 2nd time. But fortunately I was not ticketed. I NEVER did find out why I was stopped. I guess my reg became an issue. There was some weird computer mix up. The officer was decent. But to this day I don't understand why there were 3 cop cars.

I also had my kids in the car and they had them flashlights going in the back of my car.

Heidi said...

I am mad on your behalf!! Yet I am confident that you can rise above their oppressive behavior towards you, and know that you have more dignity than they currently possess. I wonder if it's an occupational hazard that police become callous and lose their common sense.
On another note, by definition you are an artist: "One who is able by virtue of imagination and talent or skill to create works of aesthetic value."

Guinifer said...

I'm sorry, that should happen to no one.

Anonymous said...

Ugh, how horrible. I've run into some jerk officers myself & always wonder, are they always like this? Probably, unfortunately.

Mary Anne said...

I'm sorry you had to go through that awful experience.

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett said...

Oh, Deborah....I'm sorry for that.

On this coast, before my husband bought a newer van than the old one he was driving, he got pulled over all the time. He has long curly hair and in our wealthy (pretentious) area, I'm sure they suspected him of something. Once the police even stopped him In Front Of Our House.

I'll tell you, our peace officers never fair to surprise me.

Jenn said...

As I former Jersey Girl I feel your pain. I have never been a victim of racial profiling, but I know that those troopers can be scary. I have been a victim of poor car profiling while driving through parts Bergen County in a beat up Nissan Sentra. Now I live in CA and belive me it is worse. GRRR!

Even putting race aside, that office knew when you "cut him off" that he could rake in a high fine. Safety my @#^ he saw $$$.

Nice blog!

Kirsten said...

That really stinks! I have a son who is 15 and try to put myself in your shoes, explaining to him how to handle the same situation if he ever finds himself in it. It is painful to think about, but it sounds like you handled it well - much better than I think I could have.

MBmama said...

I've been neglectful of reading blogs lately and just catching up. I'm outraged! Unfortunatly, I'm niave enough to think that this isn't happening anymore. I'm sorry this happened to you and to your son. I'm Pissed!