When I was about 8 or 9 years old, I was in the backseat of the car when my father, the driver, was pulled over for a traffic stop. My father was guilty. He knew he was guilty.
The police officer came up to the car and asked my father for his license and registration.
I don’t know what was going on inside my father at that point. There was probably a mixture of anger and embarrassment. His license was inside his wallet in his back pocket. (He used to say that no one could ever pickpocket him because even he had a hard time getting it out!)
He got out of the car and stood up reaching into his back pocket for his wallet. He was a large man. He could easily be intimidating.
I don’t know what was going on inside the police officer at that point. I imagine there was some anger and a bit of fear on his part. My father had unwittingly placed him in a vulnerable position. Could my father have been reaching for a gun? Why did this big man get out of the car?
The police man ordered my father back in the car, wrote a ticket, and we went our separate ways, my father rightfully chastened by the infraction.
This could have ended very differently – and by recent statistics, based on the color of my father’s skin.
I don’t think this is solely or even primarily a police problem. I think it is a human problem. We are more anxious, suspicious, and fearful of people who are different from us than people who are like us. I know I am. When I am walking by myself in DC, I am more wary of people of color who walk near me than others. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is.
Something needs to be done with our justice system – I plan to join other faith leaders on the march in DC on December 13 to speak out for racial justice.
But something also needs to be done with me.