Tuesday, July 28, 2015

THINKING ABOUT SANDRA BLAND - A WHITE WOMAN'S VIEW

I cannot wrap my mind around the injustice of Sandra Bland's death.  And one of the reasons I can't wrap my mind around it, is because but for the grace of -  I'd say GOD - but I think it's less about God and more about skin color - there but for the grace of my white freckled skin, go I.

The Washington Post  reported today that according to the FBI, 50 officers were killed in the line of duty in 2014.  But 544 civilians have been killed in encounters with the police.  THINK ABOUT IT~  Look what those statistics say about civilian encounters with police officers.

A few years ago, I too was pulled over by cops, for no apparent reason.  I am a white woman living in the suburbs of Northern Virginia, but my encounter with the cops left me shaken. It left me wondering what sort of of a county I lived in -and how this was possible in America the beautiful - the land of the free - the greatest country in the world - as our politicians  love to remind us.

I'd had a kir earlier that evening.  Even beginning my paragraph about a police encounter like this sounds twee.... Are you for REAL, Amanda?  Yes - my friends - I had had a kir ---- (a glass of white wine with creme de kassis) -   and then my son Elliot asked me if I would drive him to a friend's pool party.  I said I would.

We got in the car and drove up the road... and as we approached its far end, we noticed that the street was lined with cars.  We commented that it seemed strange, but continued on, and as I drove down the gauntlet of cars, a flashlight was shined in my windscreen.  I didn't know who had shined the light, but I continued the 100 yards to the end of our street and in due course, turned left and continued on the 15 minute ride, to my son's friend's house.

I dropped him off and drove back home.

But as I came back down my street - a street which has a posted 25 mph limit, I was stopped by cops.

I wound down my window. "Maam," the officer  barked at me.  He was a boy of about the age of my eldest son. "Do you remember that I shined a light in your window a few minutes back? Do you realize you were driving to endanger?"

Driving to endanger?  I had no such recollection. I was driving down my own street, a street I had driven thousands of times before.  Why would I be driving to endanger?

"Have you been drinking?"

"Well, I had a kir," I said. Big mistake.

"A WHAT?"

"A kir," I repeated.

The cop commanded that I get out of my car. "This is my street..." I told him. "I live just a few doors down..."  

Nothing I said made a difference.  He proceeded to put me through my paces. He took my license and registration.  He made me recite the alphabet from L to Z.

"Hold your arms out straight, MA'AM," he said. "When I call RIGHT or LEFT - I want you to place your index finger on the tip of your nose.  I don't want it ABOVE the nose. I don't want it BELOW the nose.  But ON the TIP of the NOSE."

Then we went through a drill, with some of my neighbors looking on in shock. "Right, left, right, left. Left, Right, Right. Left," he shouted - while I complied. My wirehaired dachshund sat in the back of my PT Cruiser, waiting. 

He asked what my highest  level of education was.

"Graduate school," I told him.

"GRADUATE SCHOOL?!?!" he repeated mockingly.

He asked me if I was wearing heels.  I told him I was.

He told me I had been speeding. "It's a 20 mph limit here."  I corrected him. I said it was 25.

He then told me he would let me go. "BUT..." he warned, "I don't want to see you out on the road again. Because if I DO - I will arrest you for driving to endanger. Do you understand me?"  I said I did.  I then drove 200 yards up the road to my home.

What had happened? I had been treated like a criminal on my own street - and WHY? For NOTHING..  

Later I found out, that the cops had been called to that house up the road for a domestic abuse case.  They must have been pumped up.  They must have come out of the house with a lot of aggression inside them - and needed someone to take it out on.

A couple of people I've talked to about Sandra Bland suggest that she should have got out of the car.  They cannot believe she talked BACK to the cop.  That she didn't put out her cigarette. 

But, I remind them, she was annoyed. They were pulling her over for NOTHING  and she knew it.  She hadn't signaled, no - but all she had done was try to pull over and let the cops behind her pass.

She was also vulnerable.  She'd had a miscarriage.  She was in a strange and alien city and about to start a new job.  The cop pulled her over and treated her like she wasn't deserving of respect - didn't deserve to have emotions about the affront of being pulled over.  Then she was left in a jail cell for three days.  She must have thought she had crossed to the dark side. That this was how it was going to be, from now on.

My heart goes out to her. She was young.  She was trying to start a new life.  I have been there too.

When I think of the way the cops responded to her - I am also reminded of El Salvador - when walking the streets without an ID could get you killed.  It's a sliding scale.  How far along that scale is our society prepared to go?




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