That Time My Wife Was Driving and We Were Pulled Over for DWB
Last year we said, ‘Things can’t go on like this’, and they didn’t, they got worse.” — Will Rogers
This is an updated version of a previous story that I posted last June.
In June of 2019, while driving from the house I own in Florida to the apartment in Maryland where my wife and I live, we were stopped in South Carolina on Wednesday while doing 69 in a 70. Because my wife committed the simple offense of driving while black.
There was more to this. The state trooper followed us for more than three minutes before the blue lights came on. We were in a rental car with Maryland plates because my wife’s car was totaled by an elderly man who rear-ended her the week before. I am a white Hispanic, my wife is Black, and we have a pit bull who was being a good girl in the back seat.
The lights came on and we pulled over. Our dog, a rescue, does not like people in uniforms. I’m in the military and she has gotten used to my own uniforms but she still freaks out every time she sees law enforcement. We got her as a rescue from the BARCS shelter in Baltimore, so she might have been forced to fight, breed, etc. but none of us will know what our beloved puppy went through.
The white female officer followed us for about three minutes before turning on the blue lights. We had passed two cruisers and a stopped car and when you’re doing 69 in a 70 zone, you cover more than three hundred feet in one second. The police officer would have probably issued a ticket or worse except that a) my wife has “Veteran” on her DL and b) I was with her and I’m a naval officer who is still on active duty. Additionally, we both hold degrees from the Naval Academy and we also both have post-grad degrees. I was a bit on the rude side with the cop and I was recording the stop on my iPhone. The officer probably knew she was messing with the wrong people (two college-educated people, one a Vet, the other Active Duty).
We were given a warning about the fake lane-change violation.
If my wife had been alone, the officer probably would have asked to search the car. Wife would have invoked her 4th Amendment right and would have been held there for a couple hours before the K9 could come. Then what about if evidence was planted? When we live in the age of all-too-frequent “roadside vigilantism” (Ahmoud Abery, Trayvon Martin) and outright roadside executions by law enforcement officers (Eric Garner, George Floyd), we have unresolved issues. Electing Obama did not fix the issues on its own merit. Doesn’t even matter if President Trump and his dad engaged in redlining in the 1970s (the subprime mortgage market that Alan Greenspan so vigorously promoted in the 1990s is a form of redlining). We need to fix race relations. Maybe people need to marry to people of different ethnicities, races, national origins, and religions. Whatever the answer, we can do better.
My dad is a retired cop and he once went to a workshop where (ironically), two Latino-descent police officers explained a bunch of stats and basically told the audience something along the lines of how if a Latino man in his mid-20s is driving a Japanese midsize car and following all the rules, he probably has drugs and all you need to do is follow them for a few minutes until you can find a minor reason to pull them over. When I told my parents about this, my dad played “Devil’s Advocate” about how they couldn’t have gotten a good look at the vehicle occupants,” etc. I know my dad, being married to my Mexican mom, especially on the ride-alongs I did with him as a teen and young adult in Northern California, never seemed interested in deporting migrant workers. Police officers have a weapon that is even more powerful than a S&W .40 — discretion. I saw my dad on occasions give breaks to people who were probably undocumented and old ladies who in his words, “probably never got a break.” I also saw that every young college lady who ever tried to be cute got cited for exactly what he stopped them for. Discretion.
On that June day in South Carolina, “discretion” meant “profiling.” I will go to the grave convinced that had I been driving my own car with Florida plates and tinted windows, we never would have been stopped.
I’m sure some bean counter in SC (and other states) compiles stats that imply Black drivers are x times more likely to have an expired license/no insurance/have a warrant/etc.). There are metrics on this. The causes of why a Black driver might be more likely to roll “dirty” is an entirely different discussion involving income (which minorities across the country keep having stolen from them in the form of fines and having to make court dates during working hours while working hourly wage jobs, etc.).
Lastly, education is your friend. My wife majored in history and I majored in political science and concentrated on municipal government and constitutional law. I also took criminal justice courses over the years because at one point I considered becoming a lawyer.
Know your rights. Especially the Fourth Amendment. Never, EVER, just let them search your trunk. Then need probable cause to go that far and it’s a higher standard than the “you were weaving so we think you might be drunk” reasonable suspicion standard.