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DWB: Driving While Black, My own stories
MY OWN PERSONAL PROFILING STORIES
Why did President Obama say Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley was stupid for arresting Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., because he was stupid. Whites do not understand racial profiling because it doesn’t happen to them. They do not understand the degradation that black men have experienced in this country for years.
The last time it happened to me was about four weeks ago in downtown Los Angeles. I was there taking pictures when two cops pulled me over. They were very polite and once they realized that I was not some drunk, they just gave me a fixit ticket. I drove off and thought, hmmm, maybe the LAPD has changed. The strange thing was I did not have my license and he did not ticket me for it.
At the end of the 2007-2008 school year, I was coming home from work when I pulled up behind a a Riverside County Sheriff’s officer and another car. The officer pulled over in front of both myself and the other car and pulled over to median, pulled in behind me, and then pulled me over. Two officers came up to me with their hands clearly on their weapons. I sat in my car and thought I was going to jail because I did not have my registration or insurance card in the car at the time for reasons beyond my control.
They approached the car and the officer asked me if I knew why he stopped me. I said no. He then asked me the standard question, “Do you have any warrants.”
“I said no.”
He said, “You’ve never been arrested?”
“I said nope.”
He then asked me for those papers that I did not have. My wife had the insurance card and my step-son had taken the registration from the car by accident. I called both of them on my cell phone and my wife headed down with the insurance card. I sat in the car and waited for the officer to get my information straight. When he came back he told me what he stopped me for. He said I had a brake light out. I was incensed.
I came home and started a phone calling campaign. I knew that this officer had stopped me because I was black. I called all around and finally I found out that officer who stopped me was a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) officer who was on a warrant hunt. A warrant hunt is when an officer stops someone in hope landing a bigger perpetrator through warrant search. The problem was that I have never been arrested.
When I finished my calling campaign, I started a letter and e-mail campaign to find out where this guy worked. It turns out that he works in Indio. I wrote a letter to Sheriff office and even filed an official complaint. I eventually received a call from the officer’s supervisor who pointedly told me that I was part of a sweep for felons. The only reason these officers stopped me was because I would have a warrant. He apologized, but it did not assuage my anger.
I have never been arrested. I am college educated. I am a professional and I am a good father. I pay taxes and I work ever day, I have since I was 14-years-old. I have worked extremely hard all of my life. I am bilingual. I worked nine years for one of the largest newspaper in the country.
However, this happens to me all the time. I was once stopped in the middle of a street and when I asked the cop why he told me it was because I looked at him. I even wrote a story about this in the Los Angeles Times circa 1990 and it was later mentioned in an article by a Times editorial writer that included an incident with the Secret Service and future Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
This is not a figment of my imagination. I have no doubt that had Professor Gates been white, he would not have been arrested. Officer Crowley is a professional. Once Professor Gates showed him his ID, he should have walked away from a senior citizen who was tired, frustrated, and highly agitated because he was being asked to leave his home. He acted stupidly. Professor Gates may have overreacted. He may have even berated the officer, but the officer should have said thank you and then walked away. Instead he humiliated an old man for the sake of ego. Stupid.