Originally Posted: July 15, 2016
As soon as I got my driver’s license when I turned 16, my mom would give me really oppressive curfews (or so I thought at the time): “Be home before dark, or else!” Eventually, she let me stay out past sundown. Regardless of when I was told to be home with the car, she insisted on knowing where I was going and who I was with.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was really difficult for my mom to watch me leave her sight. My mom was a Registered Nurse who worked in the emergency ward at Detroit Receiving Hospital: she witnessed worst case scenarios on a daily basis. And she had to bear her worries alone, since my father passed away a few years earlier.
My mom tried to protect me from things she had to know I would eventually experience. She just did her best to prolong the inevitable, and hoped for the best.
Fast forward to present day: I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been pulled over by the police. I admit that not every stop was undeserved: I was driving too fast, or I made a right turn on red when I shouldn’t have. But many more of those stops just didn’t make sense:
- “Sir, who owns this car?”
- “Where do you work?”
- “Who is that in the car with you?”
- “Where are you going?”
- “Why are you in this neighborhood?”
to laugh to keep from crying. Humor can illustrate
something or make a point better than anything else.
That’s what we were trying to accomplish with
our Driving While Black T-shirt.At first glance, the image may make someone
laugh. But if someone really thinks about it for a
few minutes, it’s really not funny at all. It’s sad.
There is a deeper message being presented,
and it’s hidden in plain sight.Click Here to view available t-shirts.
When I wasn’t being pulled over, it was painfully obvious that I was being followed. One instance in particular, a squad car followed behind me so closely, I thought he was going to rear-end me. The police cruiser filled up my rear view mirror; it almost felt like those cops were in my back seat. No lights were flashing, and there was no siren. I dared NOT pull over. I heard their message loud and clear: “Don’t drive though this part of town again”. And I didn’t for a long time after that.
I guess I got off kind of ‘easy’ because my friends have shared far worse stories:
- At one time, police intended to do harm to my friend… he watched the police from his rear view mirror remove their badges from their uniforms as they approached his car. His cries for help (waking the neighborhood) is the only thing that kept him from being beaten, or worse.
- Another friend used to work at a factory around 10 or 15 miles outside of the city. Almost every day, he would be pulled over and harassed on his way to work. The owner of the factory had to contact the local police department and plead with them to leave his employees alone. He was losing too many workers because they eventually quit their jobs. Word got out, and the owner found it more and more difficult to find people to work, because nobody wanted to deal with
the police in that area.
I don’t believe my experiences, or the experiences of my friends, are unusual. In fact, they are typical. Being racially profiled is just a fact of life. It’s something we’ve (sadly) grown used to, because there has never been a time in American history when black folks haven’t been singled out or profiled at some point.
Sometimes, I occasionally “forget” that I’m driving while black, because a few years go by without being pulled over. I’m immediately reminded when I’m pulled over for the wrong reasons… again. Or, when I hear about someone in the news that was stopped for driving while black, and things went horribly wrong.
The absolutely unnecessary death of Philando Castile is shocking. But, at the same time, it isn’t surprising. Every black person born in the USA with a driver’s license is very aware that we could be killed just like Philandro was.
There are thousands of black men just like Philando among us. Always have been. And they were here long before smart phones or social media were invented. Philando’s story isn’t new. The fact that this heartbreak was captured live, as it was happening, on social media is the only thing different or unusual about this story.