Last week, a case that raises questions about how African-Americans are treated in traffic stops was resolved in court.
In September, a young man was driving down Interstate 45 with his girlfriend. They were going out to dinner in Texas City. The young man was one of those rare people who don’t speed on I-45.
It was dark. A state trooper pulled behind the young man’s car, emergency lights blazing. The young man looked at his speedometer and concluded the officer couldn’t be after him. He went on for almost two miles.
When the young man finally pulled over in La Marque, the trooper had his gun out of the holster. Other officers arrived as backup.
The young man was cuffed and put down, face first, on the ground. The young woman in the passenger’s seat was naturally frightened.
When things calmed down, it gradually became clear to the young people why they had been stopped. The car had paper tags from the dealer. The tags were wrapped in plastic. On the coast, condensation builds up inside the plastic. The officer couldn’t read the tags.
There was no other suggestion of bad behavior. No speeding. No missed turn signals. Nothing illegal in the car.
Since this stop, the story has been often told. It’s not an isolated story. Perhaps you recall seeing a piece in the newspaper about two young women, again African-American, who were stopped in La Marque, accused of rolling through a stop sign.
As you might suspect, white and black people don’t necessarily hear the story of the stop on I-45 in the same way.
You can get a sense of how perspectives differ when people, especially older men, tell stories about their own encounters with the law when they were young. Some older men, mostly white, tell stories about getting a lecture from a kindly cop and being sent home. Others, mostly black, don’t tell heartwarming stories.
If you listen carefully, you can see why people come to different conclusions about when it’s appropriate for an officer to draw a gun. It’s hard to see privilege in the unequal treatment if you only consider yourself. If you really listen to the stories of others, though, you begin to wonder.
The story about the traffic stop on I-45 has been examined. People reviewed video. Police officers and concerned citizens have talked reasonably. But there is no agreement about the part of the story that takes us from condensation on a car tag to a drawn gun.
That’s what officers are trained to do. Should it really be that way?
Last week, the case went to municipal court.
It would have been nice if the judge had given the young man a lecture about paying attention to flashing lights and sent him home. Instead, the young man was fined $350. That’s two weeks’ pay for a college student working part-time.
That’s justice — the way the system works here, in our community, today.
I think it’s a problem. What about you?