This Sandra Bland story is super sad. I can’t comment on the race part of the story, which is obviously the most important part of the story. But I thought I would share a couple of experiences that I’ve had with cops.
If you drive often enough, you’ll deal with a cop now and then. The insane parking rules in New York City guarantee parking tickets. Someone once told me that it will cost you $200 in parking tickets before you get the hang of the rules. In the seven years that I had a car and lived in Manhattan, Steve and I probably had about $300 to $400 in parking tickets. Once we moved back to the suburbs, there were more issues.
One time, I was pulled over for speeding. I had an asshole cop that time. He pulled me over. I asked nicely what I did wrong. He said, “give me your license.” I asked what I did wrong. He said, “give me your license.” I did. He went back to his car, looked me up on a computer, wrote me a ticket for speeding, and walked away. I had to look at the ticket to figure out what I did wrong.
Another time, I drove past a school bus. After living in the city for so long, I hadn’t dealt with school buses and didn’t know the “no driving past a school bus” law. It was a fairly large error. That time, the cop was polite and even apologetic, but gave me the ticket and the points on my license.
I made a right on red at a corner with a “no right turn on red” sign. The sign was placed very far away from the corner, so I didn’t see it. The cop didn’t have a great attitude, but noticed that my license said that I had moved to New Jersey a week ago. She gave me a warning.
I was driving down a suburban road, and my cell phone rang. I pulled onto a smaller street, stopped the car, and answered the phone. The cop that driving behind me thought my behavior was suspicious and stopped behind me. He asked fairly aggressively what I was doing. I held up the phone and said, “my kid called and I didn’t want to talk and drive.” He sheepishly waved and drove off.
Each time, I had a totally different experience. It’s hard to know how to deal with police in these small matters, when you don’t know if you’re going to be dealing with a rational human being or a pumped up, authority-freak.
The Texas Standard has an excellent article about the details of the arrest of Sandra Bland. They point out the officer made multiple mistakes, which escalated events and led to Bland’s arrest. Even if Bland was acting aggressively, he could have taken steps that would have diffused matters.
Some people think that cops use these small traffic violations to increase their revenues and exert authority. They use minor laws, like seatbelt violations, to remind us of their power. While African-Americans have bigger problems with local law enforcement, cops aren’t popular with other groups either. While most of our encounters with jerky cops don’t end violently, it’s still an unpleasant situation.
Law enforcement procedures are under the microscope this year. We need to re-examine our methods for recruiting and training police officers. We also need to take a hard look at some of the laws on the books. The petty stuff needs to be handled in very different ways from the bigger stuff.