During my senior year of high school, I was driving home from work late one afternoon and listening to Kanye West’s Graduation album, arguably the greatest album release of 2007. I can’t even lie and say that it wasn’t thumpin’ as I like to listen to music at a volume high enough to really appreciate it while driving, as do most young males (black or white). I decided to check my rear view since I do consider myself a safe driver and I see that a car is “riding my ass”. I think to myself it may be just be a random guy in a Crown Vic. So I decide to speed up a bit but that doesn’t work. Next, I decide that I better switch lanes and let this guy go around and yet again that does not work. Then it happens, I see the blue and red lights swirling in the rear view mirror and I immediately turn down Can’t Tell Me Nothing, greatest song on the album.
I pull over and the cop asks for my license, registration and insurance. He goes back to his car to run the plates. A few hours go by, well it at least it felt like it had been than long when it was probably actually two or three minutes, and my heart felt like it might just beat right out of my chest. Nevertheless, the officer asked me to step out of the vehicle and I asked why. He promptly responded that he would tell me once I got out of the vehicle. I stepped out and was then instructed to put my hands on the hood of the vehicle while he quickly flashed his lights inside as a quick search. He then asked me who’s car I was driving and my relationship to that person. I let him know that the car is in my mom’s name and that I drive it to and from work. I asked him why he pulled me over and he said it was because I failed to signal a lane change on the highway.
Driving while black (“DWB”) is not a recent concept nor has it failed to permeate the culture of traffic officers nationwide. The story of Sandra Bland is not to dissimilar than my own. She was driving to start her new career as a counselor at Prairie View A&M University in Texas. She was aggressively followed by an officer for a few blocks and while she tried to let him go around she changed lanes without signaling. But why was he following her in the first place – that is the question that needs to be answered. In my case I am sure it was because I was a 17-year old black kid driving a Mercedes-Benz SUV. DWB is real and has real consequences that can alter anyone’s life course. Unfortunately, in Sandra Bland’s case it resulted in her mysterious death within a jail cell.
Sandra Bland’s death is being referred to as a suicide which is ironic given not only the nature of her traffic offense but also her current stage in life. I understand that the facts are the facts and its wrong to vindicate an entire police force but someone must be held responsible for a life that is gone. Frankly, this just sucks honestly. A young black women on her way to start a new job is pulled over for DWB and three days later winds up dead in a jail cell.
I send my prayers to her family, Chicago community and to Prairie View A&M University.