Saturday, April 5, 2008

Racial Profiling and Fairfax County

I am always very cautious about my son's mobility around metro DC, and particularly in Fairfax County. He's Black, the county is majority white and affluent, the schools are good, and the courthouse and jails are filled with Black and Latino men. So when my son is out late at night and wants to walk home, I almost always go and pick him up unless he reminds me that I'm being over-protective.

Tonight he called from the metro station and let me know that he would catch the bus home. I offered him a ride if the bus took too long to arrive. And sure enough, a few minutes later he took me up on the ride.

We were cruising down Franconia Road, I'm telling him about my mother and the first time she picked me up from the Huntington metro in 1985, and how proud she would be to see my son negotiating public transportation alone. I was being a little nostalgic.

When we pulled up at the light at Franconia and S. Van Dorn to make a left turn into my subdivision, I saw one Fairfax County police officer parallel to my car in the lane beside me and another stopped at the light to my right about to make a right turn and travel west on Franconia. I took note of both police officers. I'm Black in America, I have to take notice.

I made my left turn and the officer that was parallel to me cut across the lane and made the left behind me. My son noted that the officer was no longer traveling down Franconia Road but had dropped behind us. I told my son, "well if he turns at Castlewellian, then he's following us." Sure enough when I turned left onto Castewellian, he turned left too. And in less than 100 feet, the lights on his squad car began flashing.

We went through the routine: license and registration. I reached in my purse and handed the officer my license, but let him know that I needed to reach in the glove box to get my registration. He decided that he didn't need the registration after all. He told me that when he ran my tags, the computer listed that the registered owner didn't have a license. He took my license and ran it. The officer came back and told me that the description on my license fits the description on the vehicle's registration. Hum. I have the registration, title, and County of Fairfax, 2008 Personal Property Verification right in front of me now; none of these items has a description of the owner on them, unless by description he meant my name.

I was particularly perturbed but maintained my composure. The officer could not see me, the driver, from his vantage point before he pulled over my car; rather he had a full view of my 6' 1 1/2" son in the passenger seat. I am certain that my son incited the officer to run my plates. For it was only after the officer looked at the age on my driver's license that he realized he didn't have two teenagers joy riding in a stolen Honda. Yes, I still look young, and especially at night in workout clothes. The officer even thanked me for pulling over. What else was I supposed to do? Maybe floor my car, speed down Castlewellian to my home, and jump out the car in front of my house, running with my child behind me, while the officer calls for back up, draws his service revolver, maybe take a few shots at us.

The irony of the entire situation was that the officer was Latino, and Latino young men in the county are known for really liking Honda Accords. They may or may not come by them legally; I just know that the Honda Accord is still the most stolen vehicle in our county.

Needless to say, I don't get mad; I get even. Within 20 minutes after the incident I had filed an online complaint with Fairfax County Internal Affairs. I am certain that the officer stopped us because we were Black while driving. I am also certain that it was my son that the officer was after, not me. Tough luck for him that my son was with his 50 year old mother. But fear is in the back of my mouth because my son could have been in my car driving and alone, and perhaps I would be posting a completely different blog tonight.


Brandi said...

what a shame... one more reason we need a BLACK PRESIDENT.... ok ok I'm looking for any reason to support B. Obama... SMILE!

M. L. Simms said...

Yes, me, too; in fact, my friends have started calling me "Michele Obama"; although I think Ms. Obama mistakenly spells her name with two ls. Oh well.

Judy said...

I don't trust the police anymore. Every time I see they have pulled someone over I wish I could lean out the window and give them the finger.Don't they have more important things to do than harass drivers? My teenage son got harassed walking down the sidewalk one night. The policeman was angry because when he asked where the party was, my son said he didn't know, that he was just walking. He was ordered to raise his hands and was searched, with no cause!

E. said...

My life unfortunately has been littered with police harassment and brutality here in the United States.

California, Texas, Utah, Ohio, Oklahoma, Michigan and on and on.

I won't go into all the incidents here. But I know that brothers ain't safe on the streets, even when they are compliant and innocent.

I've had surprise positive encounters as well but there are too few and too far in between.

I remember once, in North Hollywood California, on Lankershim Blvd, we were crossing the street and were pulled over by two officers....."jay walking" they said. 7-11 was right across the street from our house.

In minutes there were 6 and later 10-12 police cars, dogs, guns drawn and us, face down on the concrete with cuffs cutting our skin.

They asked us about a murder in Virginia. Virginia?

In the end, they let us go and said...."you've done nothing wrong, you're free to go".

Wow, thanks.

The imprint this has had on my life is indescribable.

And that is one of the milder stories of mine. And others in my age-set haven't been so lucky as to be simply let go either.