Driving While Black Part 2: Guilty

Today was my court date contest my "Following Too Closely" ticket.   This was my first time in court and my first ticket.   The judge called us both up.  Officer Thomson gave his side of the story which was fairly accurate... He noticed a car driving with the taillight out and pulled out behind.  He then pulled up beside me in the L lane and then pulled back behind me.  I thought he wanted to get the guy with the taillight out and so I moved to the R lane and he pulled me over.

I told Judge Wheeldin (Ironically one of 2 African American Judges in Sonoma County )that I agreed with his rendition of the story other than that I was following too closely.  I told the judge that I did not understand why he did not pull over the car with the taillight out.  I told the judge that I felt like I was being profiled when he pulled beside me and then pulled me over.   I told the judge that I felt like I was being ticketed for a bogus charge because there was nothing else to get me on.  I told the judge that I have a perfect driving record in all the states I have lived in.  I told the judge that ironically I had just given a speech at a Costco event (see prior blog) where I had written into the speech about my experiences of being racially profiled while driving and that up to this point I had never been ticketed.

The judge commented that you can find these stories anywhere on the news these days and that yes it does happen.  However, it is traffic court and if I wanted to file a complaint I could do it in civil court where they try those kind of cases that set precedence for policy.  In the end he said it comes down to my word versus his and that in this kind of case he goes with the officer's contention that I was following to closely unless I am able to provide some proof to the fact that I was not.  Since I was unable to prove it, he finds me guilty as charged.

At first I felt sick to my stomach.  In the end I am guilty on two counts: "Following too closely" and "Driving while Black". However, I was under no illusion going into this that justice in this country is anything but a farce.   I wondered whether the judge felt that he could not bring race into account in this case based on his own race?    Would he be seen as "helping one of his own"?  In the end I feel good.  I stood up for myself, I stated my truth.  I was not physically or verbally harmed by this officer.  In the end it is only money and time, $300 and traffic school.  I hope some good comes out of it.  I hope officer Thompson thinks twice about his actions in the future.  I hope my airing of my dirty laundry benefits readers.  I hope the world can move forward and begin a productive dialogue about these things so that maybe my grandchildren can not be pulled over (or worse) for ridiculous reasons.  May we all return to an age of reason and peaceful coexistence.