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DWB: Driving While Black, My own stories

Updated on August 6, 2009

It Happens


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.


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    • SOBF profile image


      9 years ago from New York, NY

    • SOBF profile image


      9 years ago from New York, NY

      Something that has always been overlooked in the Gates case was the official police report of Officer Crowley. In his police report he made several statements that were later found to be untrue. He reported talking with the woman who placed the call and being told the the suspects were black. Both disputed by the actual witness. Based on these simple facts, I have to lean towards Gates account of the event.

      As far as the officer doing what was within his rights as a police officer, I have to agree that he did just that. But then again so did the police officer who tazered the grand mother, and the officer who refused to allow the football player to see his dying mother in-law. They were all fully within their legal rights, but all showed poor judgment in exercising these rights. If a person is incapable of empathy, law enforcement should not be his desired profession.

    • profile image

      A Texan 

      9 years ago

      I wrote the above because I feel its the truth, you probably have been racially profiled as many times as you say. I am a former Sheriffs Deputy and quit long before profiling was considered a tool of Law Enforcement. I used profiling or at least a version of profiling all the time, I used what I learned from working my district.

      My district was predominately white and I picked up certain traits that for example Meth heads had, they usually had older vehicles and they never had them inspected or registered and almost always were white. I used this fact to arrest a lot of users and dealers. Why arrest users? They commit a lot of crimes in order to afford the drug!

      Thats a case of racial profiling! Is that ok with you? Be honest with me and yourself, would you like an officer to use every tool to keep Burglars/Rapist/car thieves/insert crime here, out of your neighborhood?

    • profile image

      A Texan 

      9 years ago

      Obama said what he said because he is a race baiting scumbag! Obama said what he said because he identifies with the black race more than any other and therefore can never represent any other!

      Obama said what he said because he has a predisposition towards militant behavior!

      Obama said what he said because he is simply not too bright!

      He has effectively sealed his fate in the 2012 Presidential race if he even gets the nomination from his party!

    • profile image

      Cathy Iles 

      9 years ago

      Although I am not of any ethnic minority, I recognize that certain racial profiling does, in fact, exist, in many important arenas (including law enforcement). I do not, and would not, question Mr. Bean's personal experiences, including any "profiling" against him as a black man. On a personal level, I believe him to be a thoughtful (meaning "thinking") man.

      At the same time, having read Mr. Bean's most recent example of purported racial profiling, I do not believe the circumstances underlying his complaint warrant his particular conclusion (i.e., "racial profiling").

      I am a (hate to say it - for vanity purposes) middle-aged Caucasian female. I was raised very middle-class/upper-middle class and, from an economic perspective, remain in that category. At the age of 45 (yikes!), I have certainly been "pulled over" from time to time; a broken tail light does not escape the realm of the "probable cause" that law enforcement utilizes to garner my attention.

      Like Mr. Bean, I have been fortunate enough that, where I have lacked the appropriate (and legally-required) documentation needed to drive, I have been "allowed" to telephone outside sources to bring that documentation to me. Apparently unlike Mr. Bean, however, I have not attributed my dilemma to racial profiling nor to gender profiling. In fact, I am grateful, my having not comported with the law, to be afforded (at the side of the road) an opportunity to comply with the law without any resulting citation.

      If I "over react" (as Mr. Bean suggests Professor Gates may have over reacted), I expect to be treated in accordance with my over reaction; I govern my children accordingly. I expect my children to understand that if they do not comport with the law, they can expect any and all resulting consequences. At the same time, so long as they comply with the law, they can and should expect that their consequences will similarly naturally flow from their "positive" behavior.

      Every person, including me, is required to carry proof of registration and proof of insurance. I am required to have my vehicle lights in good working order. If my vehicle lights are not in good working order, law enforcement will pull me over. When that happens, I am expected to show my valid registration and current proof of insurance. If I am unable to do so, law enforcement is entitled to write me a citation for that failure; if I am provided an opportunity to provide this information from an outside source, without my receiving a citation, I am fortunate. Application of basic legal requisites without law enforcement's utilizing its discretion for basic "breaks" is not demonstrative of racism nor sexism; it is simply law enforcement's doing its job. On the other hand, where no citation results: I am fortunate, and I am grateful.

      It appears as if Mr. Bean has experienced the same good fortune as I.

      From my perspective, law enforcement's allowing us, as drivers, to obtain documentation that we are legally required to have in our possession demonstrates and exercise of discretion that is utilized in a wise fashion "across the board."

      Those of us who pretend otherwise are making unwarranted excuses.

      Unlike Mr. Bean, I do not attribute the initial stop as being racially based (how could I?). Nor do I attribute it to being gender based (I, perhaps, could; I just don't even believe that perspective myself). In reality, I get pulled over for not comporting with the law (regardless of whether law enforcement believes that my failure to comport with the law might be indicative of something more insidious).

      I speak very clearly with my children: When they are in a position of "not in charge" they must comport with the reasonable demands made of them. If I have no proof of insurance, that is my responsibility - no one else's. Each of us is required, if we drive, to carry proof of insurance. An officer/deputy who allows us to make a phone call to obtain what we are already legally required to carry with us is not "profiling" nor being harsh/discriminatory. He/she is, in fact, being generous by allowing us the opportunity to produce to them what we should already have in our possession.


      Do I question that racial profiling exists? No.

      Do I think, though, that at times people (even very bright and educated people) attribute certain law-enforcement behavior to racial profiling where, in fact, such profiling doesn't necessarily exist? Yes.

      I think there is a gap between racial perspectives that, to me, is a very sad thing. I think there are, indeed, people in positions of power who make irrational decisions based on race. On the other hand, I think that each of us is subjected to irritating consequences based on our own failures in responsibility.

      I, too, have been pulled over for having lights that were not appropriately working. When I am pulled over, I am expected to have a valid driver's license along with evidence of current insurance. These requirements are not racially based nor gender based; they are uniformly and statutorily required.

      There are so many racial/gender gaps. And there are so many loving and think people who can close those gaps. Let's, please, not pretend that those gaps exist where they, in fact, do not.


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