One day a few years back, I was worn out, and beaten up, and feeling sick to my stomach, and I had to get home from wherever I was, so I thought it would be a good Idea to stick to the back roads instead of getting out onto the interstate and fighting traffic. I was taking myself off the big road for the safety of myself, and those around me. I also wanted to see the James River close up because that always sooths me.
So I am slowly gliding down the ramp to quiet little Riverside Drive when I see a motorcycle policeman rocketing up the road in the other direction. I slow down even more to give him plenty of grace to go wherever he is planning to go, and when he has passed I glide to an almost stop and slowly (maybe five miles per hour) ease on into my right turn.
Next thing I know, I am hearing a siren behind me, and I look up in my rear view mirror to find that motorcycle guy behind me. I think, I better get out of the way so he can do his police business, and I pull over, only to find that the man is pulling me over for something. My heart starts to pound. What on earth could it be?
He is coming over to me in a rage. Really what on earth could possibly be wrong, I think.
I roll down the window and the guy starts screaming at me, “Ma’am do you realize that you didn’t even stop at that stop sign back there? Do you understand that that is how motorcyclists get killed everyday by thoughtless people not paying attention to them? Do you realize that someone just got killed on a motorcycle up the road from here on the interstate?” (Which I pointed out earlier, gentle reader, I chose not to take for fear of inattentiveness.)
He continued, “If I had just been a few minutes later you might have killed me.” (That would have been hard to do since I was going in the other direction, but lets not point that out to this hot head right now.) “Do you understand the rules of the road?……”
At this point, I must admit that I stopped paying attention to him, because, during his diatribe a yellow jacket had flown in my window, and I have a life threatening allergy to yellow jackets, and the policeman had my drivers side door blocked, and he was lecturing me at a mile-a-minute, and I was trying to figure out what to do.
Seeing my distraction the guy got even madder. “Lady, are you listening to me?”
“I, I, there’s a bee in my car…and,” (look of disgust on his face, as if to say, “Stupid woman afraid of a bee”) …”and I have a life-threatening allergic to bees.”
Finally this registered, and the man moved himself and his bike out of the way so that I could get out of the car. So my life was at least saved.
But still, it was futile to argue the fact that I had actually made driving choices that were in the best interest of the public, had actually seen him, and had slowed to give way and had, yes not quite rolled to a stop, but been very careful in many ways about my driving. And as Maya Angelou would say, I had done then what I knew how to do to make the roads safe. Not to mention that no one had suffered as a result of my decision.
The ticket was served and I was left, even more worn out, and beaten up and, feeling sick. And now added to that, I had to figure out how to get he deadly yellow jacket (and a few of his friends who had smelled fear and come along to explore) out of my car before I could get back into it.
So, what is made clear by the fact that I am writing this missive is that somehow, I did survived my ordeal with barely a scratch. (Of course there was the ticket to pay, an increase in my insurance and my feeling of indignation to deal with, but essentially it was without a scratch.)
But lately—with more enlightened eyes—I wonder what the outcome would have been for my friends of color.
What would have been the first challenge? Would it have been simply rolling down the window and asking what was the matter? Would my friend have been accused of being a smart-mouth just for the asking?
Would the officer have thought that my friend made an inappropriate face at him in the middle of his diatribe, prompting him to pull his gun and order that friend out of the car, and on her knees, as those driving by watched in judgment?
Or would it have been at the moment that my friend realized that her life was in danger from the yellow jacket? Would she have had to endure some indignity like, “Damn fool, afraid of a bee. You’ll stay in that car ‘til I tell you to get out”?
What if my friend, fearing for her life, had jumped out of the car? Would she be alive today?
These are the thoughts that torment me now as I watch Jeff Sessions arrive in my state and promise massive quantities of money to police. Does this just mean more money for more bullets and bullies like the hotheaded guy I encountered that day?
Does it mean more of my friends living in impoverished communities can look forward to even more hassles, challenges and incarcerations than our already deplorable record demonstrates?
Or does it mean that my hard-earned tax dollars will be spent to help police learn to be better, more just and more helpful in their efforts to keep our communities running smoothly?
Mind you, I know that there are many hardworking, thoughtful and truly good people working in the police force—like the really loving police people who care for children at the scene of a traumatic crime; or the crossing guard at the school across the street from my house. He used to be there every morning to help the children across our busy street. He knew all the children, and their families. But last year they cut the budget for him to come and do this. The man was heartbroken, I tell you. For a few weeks, he showed up anyway—that is, until they figured out what he was up to an put the squash on that.
If that sort of thing is what Mr. Sessions is referring to—more police at more crosswalks doing more good things—I’m all for it. But something tells me that he is more into more bossy guys on motorcycles yelling at more people, deporting more parents and arresting more African Americans and hassling as many poor people as possible.
And I have to tell you that, lacking more information about what is about to go down, I am feeling a little sick to my stomach.
Jane Ellen Holliday Wilson
March 21, 2017