Driving while Black

I have struggled for days as to whether to write this post.  Then I struggled with what to write.   Given the recent events where justice seems to be complicated.  Two black men's killers were acquitted setting loose a storm of protests around the country.  I am somewhat insulated from it up here in the wealthy and predominantly white North Bay San Francisco Bay Area. However, with recent events it rings ever too close to home.

On October 8, 2014, I was driving North from San Francisco back to Sebastopol on the 101 in early evening.  Somewhere around the Novato area I was pulled over.  I was utterly confused.  I was not speeding, I was driving a 2010 Honda Insight registered to me.  The officer notified me that he pulled me over because the car in front of me was driving with a taillight out.  He then stated that he was concerned for me as he felt I was driving to close behind the car, especially given that the taillight was out.   I remember him being behind me for quite awhile before pulling me over.   I did not argue with him.  I kept my hands on the steering wheel at all times except when asked to do something.  I moved slowly.  His allegation is preposterous, not only was I not speeding (nor did he cite me for that), I also was not following too closely behind the car.   Anyone who has ever driven with me knows that I drive like a grandma.  Precisely to avoid unnecessary interactions with cops.  He gives me a citation after visually inspecting the interior of my car with his flashlight from outside the car.  The whole time I kept thinking "why did he not go after the guy with the taillight out and cite him?"  "I am not guilty of anything."  But I was guilty.  I was guilty of a crime he can't directly cite me for.  I was guilty of Driving while Black.

Ironically just few weeks before, I had given a speech at a Costco fundraising event where I briefly included a line about being guilty of "Driving while Black".  Speech is here I start speaking at min 14. (Password is "2014").  How prophetic!

I just received the citation in the mail and am seething with anger at the $238 charge.  Not to mention ruining my perfect driving record.  I am seething at the lost day I will spend at the traffic court as they will not assign you a time for your case.  You sit and wait.  This policy directly affects the working poor as they lose a days wage in fighting this, while the wealthy are likely to pay the charge and get on with their lives.  Yes I beat the odds, I made it through my 20's as a young, dark skinned male without ever getting a ticket for anything!  Now I am pissed, and for once in my docile life, I will be marching myself into court and standing up for myself.

This is just one of many experiences where I have experienced life as a second class citizen in the United States.  I bring it up now to open up to my mostly white friends that these things are true and really do happen. I feel like if you put me at the wrong place at the wrong time and I too would be dead or in prison.  I am tired now.  I am tired of my silence and shame.  I am tired of young men who look like me having their lives cut down in their prime.  I am tired of young men who look like me being given ridiculous prison sentences for marijuana charges when I see young white men getting slaps on the wrist and often nothing at all.  I am tired of young men who look like me being assumed to be sexual predators.  They come in all colors, shapes and sizes.  And so do good people.   I am tired of young men who look like me not getting a fair shot at a decent education unless they are willing to play collegiate sports or join the military first.  I am tired of the discrepancy of class that still so easily follows the color lines in this country.  I am tired of that fact of all my education I still am impoverished and enslaved to the banks via the school loan system.  I am tired of being afraid of having a son.

We need to change, we need dialogue to get there.  Yes it is a hard topic.  Yes it is uncomfortable.  We have no choice.  Speak up when you see any type of discrimination.  Do your part to make this tiny planet a better place. This nation was built on the notion of white supremacy and will be broken shortly if that concept is not replaced with reality.

For those interested in good dialogue on the subject, check out "The Color of Fear".  Also, PBS show "Traces of the Trade" chronicling on families journey after discovering that their family owned slaves.  Also check out Bill Moyers "The United States of Ferguson".  And of course, you can always talk to me :)