Flashing Lights – Part 2

Published by T. J. Holmes on Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 2:04 pm.

Wait.  I’m the racist?  So says the guy on twitter yesterday who called me the n-word, a “monkey”, a “thug,” and suggested I kill myself.

Many more had similar reactions and used language that was just as disturbing.  There were plenty of others I’ve heard from on social media and blogs in the past 24-48 hours who didn’t use such colorful language but were in agreement that I’m racist and/or ignorant for daring to suggest that race has anything to do with any officer’s decision to pull someone over, to stop and frisk someone, or how the officer treats a citizen after making contact.  Of course, there is an abundance of stories, cases, and studies that also suggests racial profiling is real.  At the same time, people on the other side will point to data, or the lack thereof, to fit their narrative that anyone alleging racial profiling is wrong.

There are intelligent and worthwhile conversations to have on the national and local levels about racial profiling.  However, I fear I didn’t help that conversation along one bit.

I initially tweeted the phrase “driving while black” after I had been pulled over Monday morning.  If I had told my full account of what was happening without ever using that phrase, many people would have undoubtedly drawn that conclusion and used the phrase themselves.  But, since it came from me, the phrase unfortunately became the headline, the focus, and the lighting rod in media accounts and the dialogue that followed.  In a split second, with that phrase, passions were immediately inflamed and people immediately took sides, as is often the case when matters of race come up in this country.

A big part of the reason I left CNN to start “Don’t Sleep” was to lead thoughtful, civilized, and respectful discussion on a variety of difficult topics.  But my use of those three words (driving while black) set off a discourse that, in large part, has been unthoughtful, uncivilized, and disrespectful.  That was the exact opposite of my intent, and it’s incredibly disappointing.

My hope would have been that another young man would read about my experience and could have take from it: 1) how to respectfully deal with police during a stop, 2) how to get through the moment, and 3) perhaps how to fight back when the moment has passed. However, any lesson or message has been muddled.  Despite my personal feelings about why I was stopped, voicing that opinion publicly set off the wrong conversation.  Though, I understand why many African Americans think it was appropriate and necessary for me to use the phrase thereby using my voice and platform to highlight the issue.

I never had any intention of naming the officer involved or even the police department.  I don’t want to make him or the department a media focus or the focus of attacks.  Through an attorney, I have sent formal letters of complaint to the appropriate authorities, and I look forward to a dialogue with the department and perhaps even the officer who stopped me.

We’ll never know what’s in an officer’s heart when he stops someone unless he tells us.  I doubt we’ll start hearing officers confess.  But, as long as there’s no admission of bias, there’s no way to end it.  And, of course, every time a white officer stops a black driver, it’s not a case of racial profiling.  But, the root of many African Americans suspicion of police is worthy of our examination as well.

Many have suggested I didn’t give the officer the benefit of the doubt.  Actually, I did.  Admittedly, that benefit of the doubt faded when I learned his reason for stopping me.  It’s clear that the officer didn’t give me the benefit of the doubt.  Whether that was based on my race is something we may never know.  But, it is possible that race had absolutely nothing to do with the stop.  It’s also possible that it did.  In these instances, it’s almost impossible to bridge the gap between what we can prove and what we believe.

Once again, I fear I let a so-called teachable moment pass.  Here, the only thing we’ve learned is that we still have a long way to go in this country.

To be continued …

Until then — If you have been pulled over, seemingly for no reason – tell us the rationale given by the officer for the action and how you handled – @BETdontsleep or in the comments below.

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