Archive for "driving while black"

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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Flashing Lights – Part 1

Published by T. J. Holmes on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 11:39 pm.

“Be glad you made it home.” That’s what a friend said to me after I told him I had just been on the wrong end of what I believed was an illegal police stop. ”You’re lucky you were stopped in the daytime and that the officer wasn’t in a crappy mood. Be glad you made it home.”

To an extent, he was telling me to just let it go, and the best I should hope for in this situation was to get home safely. Truth is, I probably would have just let it go, however I had documented the stop with a series of tweets. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the tweets caused a bit of stir and were even picked up by a number of press outlets. Since it’s difficult to tell a full story 140 characters at a time, let me go back and take you through the entire experience:

The stop happened first thing Monday morning. As a habit, I always drive a couple of miles under the speed limit on this particular road, and Monday morning was no different. It’s a long, straight stretch where you can be tempted to speed and where you often see police cars roaming. On this day, a police officer began following me closely. I knew I had not been speeding, and at no point while he followed me did I switch lanes. So, there was no possible traffic infraction, as far as I could tell. The officer followed for about a mile before he turned on his flashing lights. I pulled over and placed both hands out the car so the officer could see them. A tall, white officer who appeared to be in his mid-30s approached my window and asked if I had insurance on the car. Before I reached into my pocket for my driver’s license or in my glove compartment for my insurance card, I asked if it was alright to move my hands. I handed both cards to him, and at this point asked why I was stopped. The officer stated that he wanted to make sure I had insurance on the car. He claims he needed to check because of my temporary license tag. That tag is legal, up-to-date, and displays a valid, unique, printed ID number. Those numbers are in database used by officers. Ironically, Georgia law was changed last year to require those new ID numbers on temporary tags. Why? So officers don’t have to be suspicious of the driver.

The officer took my insurance info and ID back to his car for several minutes. By this time, a second officer had arrived on the scene as backup. A black female officer was in that car. (She can be seen leaning into the first officer’s car in the photo I took and tweeted during the stop.) When the first officer returned to my window, I asked him again why I was stopped and if they stop everyone to make sure they have insurance. This time he hesitated and even stammered in his response. But, his answer was the same: wanted to make sure I had insurance on the car. We left it there, I was free to go, and we all went our separate ways, but not before I got the officer’s name.
The officer was not rude during our interaction and handled the whole situation matter-of-factly. Also, at no point did the officer suggest I was guilty of a traffic violation. By his own admission, I was doing nothing wrong. Rather, he stopped me to see if I was doing something wrong: driving without insurance.

Within hours, I had talked to several attorneys for clarity and had placed a call to the police department to get answers.

There are some questions I know I’ve left unanswered: why haven’t I publicly named the officer or the police department? What kind of car was I driving? What does the law say about this kind of stop? What did the police say when they returned my call? And, what am I going to do now?

To be continued…

But as you wait for the next chapter - relive the tweet-by-tweet account of the stop, appearance on the Ed Show, and some of your responses / tweets about #drivingwhileblack and racial profiling — beginning all the way back in MARCH and the 106&Park Travyon Martin special. —–>> http://storify.com/djtakefive/t-j-holmes-drivingwhileblack

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