On my way to work this morning, I was followed by a police officer, pulled over, and harassed. After a lovely 2-hour delay spent sipping (not guzzling, for once) my coffee, reading, and listening to jazz, I hopped in my car on my usual commute to work. As I turned onto Independence Ave., a police vehicle appeared behind my car. I took notice of the vehicle, but proceeded to drive normally as I suspect most people do when a police vehicle happens to be on the road in their vicinity. A few tenths of a mile later, the vehicle switched to the lane on my right. I pulled up to a red light and noted the police car was still in the right lane, now directly in line with mine.
I accelerated from the green light the long stretch of road that passes the Martin Luther King Jr. monument. The police vehicle, I noted, was traveling at my exact speed. After a few more tenths of a mile like this, I began to have a strange feeling that the officer was following me; matching my speed on purpose. I casually decreased my speed (I had been driving comfortably within the speed limit all along) to allow them to go ahead. The police vehicle also decreased its speed. This time, dropping back into my blindspot. I still had not looked over and had no intentions of doing so. The vehicle proceeded to drive in my blindspot in the right lane for about a half mile more.
I approached a section of the road where the left lane (the lane I was in) forks. There is an option to go left at the fork or continue straight ahead. My daily route requires that I continue straight. Nearly every morning at this fork, a right lane driver will get confused about the change in traffic pattern and realize that they need to be in the left lane to follow the fork. For this purpose, I’ve developed the habit of turning on my right indicator to let other drivers know that I do not intend to fork left (although technically I am continuing straight).
I did not change lanes. However, after the fork, the police vehicle departed from my right side blindspot into the lane behind me and the officer turned their lights on. I assumed they’d just received a call and changed lanes to the right. The vehicle also changed lanes to the right, this time turning their sirens on. I then pulled over to the shoulder, cut off my music, and took out my wallet. After a few seconds, the officer exited their car. Instead of approaching my car on the drivers side, they walked behind my car to the passenger side. I rolled down my window….
Officer: I pulled you over for one reason right? You cut me off and you didn’t indicate.
Me: Sir, I did not change my lane at the fork and I used my indicator to continue forward.”
Officer: Are you sure?
Me: 100% positive. I take this route everyday on my way to work.
Officer: On your way to work. Where do you work?
Me: I’m a teacher, sir.
Officer: What kind of teacher is going to work right now? It’s after 9 o’clock.
At this point, my heart began racing and breathing quickened.
Me: I work at Georgetown Day School. We had a two-hour delay this morning because of the ice.
Officer: Oh Georgetown Day. And you teach what?
Me: Second grade, sir.
My hands were now trembling, holding tightly onto my wallet for some sense of grounding.
Officer: Alright, well, I won’t bother you anymore.
The officer walked back to his car and sped off within seconds. I froze in my seat for a split second before I was hyperventilating, tears that I could not control streaming down my face. What had just happened?
I was not pulled over for an actual traffic offense. I was not asked for my license nor registration. I was not treated with any semblance of respect. I was followed and I was harassed. And only when I legitimized my existence as a “productive member of society” to the officer’s liking was I left alone.
I am reminded of my childhood.
Police vehicles had a constant, ominous presence in my neighborhood growing up. Driving down my street multiple times a day, slowing down to get a good look at exactly what folks were up to. When I was 17 years old, I watched as police officers stood over the dying bodies of two of my neighbors–young men slightly older than me but whom I had grown up with. They had stood there, denying my aunt access to perform CPR despite the fact that she was certified because it was a crime scene. The young men had been shot for reasons irrelevant to this narrative. But one of whom had died that night in the street, feet away from his family’s front porch. The same front porch stairs I’d walk past and see him sat on everyday on my way home from the bus stop. I have had every reason to have a distrust for police, and yet…
I am reminded of Sandra Bland.
I have logged on to social media with hesitation to see another Black or Brown or Trans or all-of-the-above person’s life lost as a result of police brutality or misconduct. Memorialized in a hashtag. On any given day, the existence of my body is enough for an officer to follow, harass, and pull me over. It does not matter that I am an educator at a well-respected school or that I have a family. On any given day, my life can depend upon how an officer decides to use the authority of power with which they have been entrusted.
They should have been driving more carefully.
They should have been more respectful.
They should have seen that stop sign.
They should have replaced that tail light.