A few days before President Obama was supposed to speak at my studio, I was leaving the studio, headed to the airport. Most times when I leave the studio I have an unmarked escort. Other times I constantly check in my rearview mirror to be sure that I’m not being followed. It’s a safety precaution that my security team taught me. As I got to an intersection, I made a left turn from the right lane and was pulled over by two police officers. I pulled the car over and put it in park. Then, I let the window down and sat in the car waiting for the officer. The officer came up to the driver’s door and said that I made an illegal turn. I said, “I signaled to get into the turning lane, then made the turn because I have to be sure I’m not being followed.” He said, “why do you think someone would be following you?”
Before I could answer him, I heard a hard banging coming from the passenger window. I had never been in this position before so I asked the officer who was at my window what was going on and why is someone banging on the window like that. He said, “let your window down, let your window down. Your windows are tinted.” As I let down the passenger window, there was another officer standing on the passenger side of the car. He said, “what is wrong with you?” The other officer said to him, “he thinks he’s being followed.” Then, the second officer said, “why do you think someone is following you? What is wrong with you?”
Before I could answer the officer on the passenger side, the one on the driver’s side had reached into the car and started pulling on the switch that turns the car on and off, saying, “put your foot on the brake, put your foot on the brake!” I was so confused as to what he was doing, or what he thought he was doing. It looked like he was trying to pull the switch out of the dashboard. I finally realized that he thought that switch was the key, so I told him that it wasn’t the key he was grabbing. I reached down into the cup holder to get the key, not realizing that the key had a black leather strap on it. As I grabbed it they both tensed up and I dropped it as I heard my mother’s voice from when I was a little boy.
My mother would always say to me, “if you get stopped by the police, especially if they are white policemen, you say ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir’, and if they want to take you in, you go with them. Don’t resist, you hear me? Don’t make any quick moves, don’t run, you just go.” My mother was born in 1945 into a segregated hotbed town in rural Louisiana. She had known of many colored men at the time who were lynched and never heard from again. Since I was her only son for ten years, growing up she was so worried about me. It wasn’t until after I heard her voice that I realized that both of these officers were white.
The officer on the driver’s side continued to badger me, “why do you think someone is following you?” I then said, “I think you guys need to just write the ticket and do whatever you need to do.” It was so hostile. I was so confused. It was happening so fast that I could easily see how this situation could get out of hand very quickly. I didn’t feel safe at all. But one officer stopped his questioning and said, “we may not let you go. You think you’re being followed, what’s wrong with you?” At this point, I told him that I wanted to get out of the car. I wanted the passersby to see what was happening.
As I stepped out of the car another officer pulled up in front of my car. This officer was a black guy. He took one look at me and had that “Oh No” look on his face. He immediately took both officers to the back of my car and spoke to them in a hushed tone. After that, one of the officers stayed near his car while one came back, very apologetic.
I said all of that to say this: do you see how quickly this could have turned for the worse?
Now I know that there are many great officers, patrolmen and security guys out there. I am aware of that. But although we have made significant strides with racial profiling in this country, the world needs to know that we are still being racially profiled, and until this situation has improved greatly, I’m not sure how a murder in Florida can be protected by a “stand your ground law.”
And in another case that I have been screaming at the top of my lungs about, also in Florida, is the case of Terrance Williams and Felipe Santos, a young black man and a young Mexican man. Eight years ago, in Naples, FL, they were both put in the back of Deputy Steve Calkins’ police car and never heard from again.
They were never arrested, never brought to jail. They were put into the back of Deputy Calkins’ car and never heard from again. And to this day Deputy Steve Calkins is a free man.
I guess it’s time to march in Naples now.
RACIAL PROFILING SHOULD BE A HATE CRIME INVESTIGATED BY THE FBI!!!
That way local government can’t make the decision on whether or not these people get punished.