Sixteen years ago, I got my driver’s license. I bounced and hopped my way into the house where my dad was waiting for me, expecting him to geek out right along with me. This was a big deal. Free-dommmm!
But I got the responsible parent reaction instead. Womp womp. There were rules for his cars: Don’t bring them home on E, keep them clean, obey the speed limit, pay your own tickets, and, by God, don’t be riding no boys around in them. And then I got a speech I wasn’t expecting about getting pulled over by cops.
It was said as a given that it would happen, even if I followed all the traffic rules. I knew what they were: Answer “Yes, sir” or “Yes, officer.” Keep your hands on the 10 and 2. Comply with requests. Don’t talk back. Ask to reach for your license and registration. No sudden movements. I just didn’t think they applied to me.
Driving While Brown, that baffling phenomenon of black and Latino men getting pulled over by cops simply for being behind the wheel of the vehicle, only applies to guys, right? The stories I’ve heard of DWB usually come from folk who look about like BET news anchor TJ Holmes — not in the fineness factor per se, but in that they come from people who are black and male. Not like, you know me — black and female.
But I was 16 in PG County, Maryland, a region of suburbia where local tales of racist cops rivaled those of the more nationally notorious LAPD and NYPD. Things were bad when my parents arrived there in the mid ’70s, but in 1978, the year before I was born, they went from bad to #$%storm worse.
A 15-year-old kid, Terrence Johnson, and his older brother were either arrested for driving a car without lights or they were pulled over on suspicion that they had broken into a laundry room coin box and taken in for questioning. Either way, the brothers were taken to a local police station, separated, and two cops interrogated Terrence. And now, only God knows what really happened next.
Terrence said the officers began beating him and he thought he was going to die. Somehow he ripped an officer’s gun from its holster and let loose. Both cops were killed. Terrence was convicted of manslaughter.
He was paroled the year I got my license.
My dad, Mississippi bred in the pre-Civil Rights era, hadn’t forgotten whatever happened to him there, or what had happened to Terrence in Maryland. He would rather be safe than sorry, so “Bay” (that would be me) got a rundown of the rules. And I listened like I didn’t already know them just to keep the peace — and, more importantly, get the keys so I could somewhere, anywhere now that I had a silence.
Turns out that speech came in handy. Before I turned 22 and moved to New York without my car because really, you don’t need one, I was pulled over six times.
Read more: here