Black in America
Updated: Jun 8
This has been an awful week to be black in America. Between the Karen collective doing what they do best (being the aggressor then calling the cops to lie) and all the feelings brought up by, yet another black person murdered by the police, my soul was beyond tired and my emotions were frayed. The videos and still images of George Floyd taking his last breaths were everywhere and kept replaying in my head. As the numerous pictures of black lynching victims on Wikipedia demonstrate [intentionally not linked], we have been killed and beaten on camera long before Rodney King was beaten on video.
Our battered and broken bodies are always on display, rarely with warning, and are always traumatic to watch. Videos of the actual moments black people die in the hands of police, or their neighbors, are so commonplace, that finding them does not require any searching, and graphic snippets are often used as the backdrop of news segments. As the weight of historical disregard for our lives, and the images of our deaths combined with the latest Karen episode in Central Park, I couldn't take it anymore.
On Friday, I seriously just wanted to sit home and cry. Although coronavirus already had me sitting home, I began to regret not taking the day off from work. I originally envisioned bookend vacation days for the Memorial Day holiday, but instead decided to take a few days the following week. By 8:50 a.m., I was literally in tears after watching the morning show. The in-memoriam portion on coronavirus deaths typically makes me sad and the segments related to Floyd’s murder intensified that sadness. I had to stop crying and get myself together for my 9:00 a.m. Zoom meeting. It was time to put on my armor and get through the day.
I am so used to having to compartmentalize what it means to be black in this world—in order to show up, be present, and seen as non-threatening—that my “I'm okay” façade is sometimes second nature. Façades are exhausting though, and I was not holding it together well. I began to feel a compulsion to write because writing was my first form of therapy, before I found actual therapy! My own traumatic experiences with police resurface every time we are killed, or beaten, solely for being black. I am constantly reminded how easily it could always be me, a loved one, or any other black person out in this world—just trying to survive.
Inevitably the cops, or the ‘neighborhood watch,’ will strike again. In recent years, thousands of black people have been disproportionately killed by police. We also have to endure an onslaught of calls to police reporting us for the most mundane reasons. Breonna, Trayvon, Tamir, Atatiana, Ahmaud, Kalief, Michelle, Freddie, Eric, Tanisha, Alfred, Philando, Antwon, Sandra and the thousands of other black lives lost, could easily be any of us. Those of us still here are fortunate to have lived through the police finding reasons to stop us, humiliate us, and accuse us. We are incredibly tired.
I have been collecting these words, slowly, over the course of many years. Each time I tried to “finish” writing, I couldn’t. I would become sad or angry or both. With my armor on, I avoided the trauma of my own memories but my armor broke last week and writing became unavoidable.
The last time I was invited to discuss race with white people was four years ago, in a structured social setting. It was so incredibly draining, my soul hurt. One of the organizers, a white woman, was in the same discussion group as I. She was much more interested in policing how I discussed race than giving me the space to share how I felt, about my lived experiences, on my own terms. The words that were coming out of my mouth made her uncomfortable, therefore policing the discourse was a higher priority than hearing me.
White women’s feelings have always mattered much more than black people’s actual safety. It wasn’t a surprise the same dynamic existed when talking about race, even if the discussion was supposed to be ‘open and honest.’ It was exhausting and definitively not how I wanted to spend my social time. Black folks are constantly expected to filter how we feel and act in order to be more palatable to white people, always. Even when our feelings and bodies are hurt, we are responsible for packaging our pain as not to offend. It’s exhausting and frustrating. We live in a constant state of being tired, worn out, drained, and fatigued, which affects our physical health.
Most impressive during this ‘open and honest’ discussion was the obligatory black man in the group, bending over backwards to make Karen feel comfortable, while reminding me I needed to be thankful for the forum ‘good white folks were providing.’ Even if this woman was not there, I am sure he would have reminded me of society's overarching power dynamic: white feelings > black safety. Servicing the status quo has been ingrained in our DNA and is often a survival technique. Black people can be better gate keepers than the real gate keepers, and that dynamic is no different with police. The race of the officer is irrelevant because blue is blue, even when blue happens to be a black person. Oppression is systemic for a reason.
Since childhood, I have known that the primary function of the police is not to protect and serve, at least not black folks. Even if I did not know America’s sordid “law enforcement” history, particularly when it comes to black people, I needed to look no further than my own life. Despite the absence of a criminal record, the presence of multiple, traumatic run-ins with the cops prevails. Encounters with police based much more on what I look like, than what I may or may not have done, permeate living in America and taught me the extent to which blue stays blue, no matter the race of the cop. Cops can be black, white, Latin, Asian, biracial, “Cablinasian,” it doesn't matter, the system has granted license to unjustly target black people “in defense of the law.” I reiterate, oppression is systemic for a reason.
Lesson #1 – Only black drug dealers and white people drive Land Cruisers
My first lesson came in the seventh grade when my entire immediate family—my five siblings, my grandmother, and my parents—drove back to Maryland (MD) from my grandfather’s funeral in New York. It was the early 90’s and my extremely hard-working dad purchased a Land Cruiser for his nine-person household. A minivan was not an option for a man who used to fit the whole family in an old school Toyota hatchback. My dad had been driving that hatchback since he immigrated to America, in the early 1980’s, and it had served him well. We took a family trip to Canada, and back—all six kids plus my parents in that car (before seat belt laws got all strict)! The Land Cruiser was definitely a step up, and my dad’s pride and joy.
As we drove back to MD, my dad noticed a car following us and in his typical suspicious, Caribbean fashion, he sped up. The car had been following us for a while and my dad was concerned. Besides, he had all of his emotions from burying his dad that day. He figured he would be able to lose the car (he was driving a Land Cruiser) and thought he was successful. We were all nervous about being followed and I don’t think it crossed anyone’s mind that it would be an undercover cop in an unmarked vehicle. Although we didn’t see the car anymore, when we took the exit for our house, we were surrounded by an extraordinary amount of police vehicles. It looked like a scene from a movie. The black cop following us in that unmarked car had called in the cavalry. We were about a mile and half away from home.
In the early 90’s, only black drug dealers and white people were supposed to have Land Cruisers. Black men who were gainfully employed, with large families, and an equally hard-working wife, were supposed to stay cramped in that hatchback. Stretching our legs was not allowed. Given the number of officers that showed up, the cop probably thought he hit the mother load in the drug trade. With that assumption, of course it would make sense that an entire black family was transporting drugs along the I-95 corridor, instead of coming home from a funeral. We didn't get the assumption that Daddy had a car note, just like everybody else. The assumption is that when black people have nice things, they are ascertained by ill begotten means, charity, or some mythical advantage.
To make matters worse, our exit was in Landover, MD in Prince George’s (PG) County, frequently considered 'the hood,' especially at the time. Neighborhoods like Palmer Park, Kentland, and Capitol Heights still carry that stigma, even with the Redskins stadium in their backyard. PG County remains the blackest county in MD, and although it is one of the most affluent majority black counties in the US, we are still not allowed to have nice things and live in peace. Of course, America suffers from classism as well as racism, and there are definitely some advantages to being a rich black person in a county full of black people. Rich neighborhoods are treated differently, but 20785 never fell into that category and had no shield of wealth.
We were kept at the side of the road for hours. I will never forget my dad repeatedly explaining that he had just put his father in the ground and had no idea the car following us was “law enforcement.” Even if he was speeding, the punishment for speeding is a ticket, not being followed across state lines and surrounded. We just wanted to go home. We were all exhausted. No one had any sort of drugs on them, not even prescriptions, but home was the longest mile and a half away.
One of my most salient memories from that day is the image of my sister helping my grandmother find a bush so she could relieve her bladder. We were hemmed up at the side of the road so long, granny couldn't hold it anymore. I was a child and I don’t remember why the cops finally let us go home. I never asked my dad or talked to my sisters, or my mom, or shared the events of that day with anyone. I have engaged in many a therapy session to help me stay sane and happy in this world, yet I have never talked about this in therapy.
What I got from that day in 7th grade was the lasting impression of us not being human. I am actually thankful the cops let my grandmother find a bush, because they could have refused to let her leave the car. Even as I write this, I marvel at that—I am glad the cops let my granny find a bush to pee in, instead of making her stay in the car. We weren't human then and we don't get to be human now. Thirty years later, and we still exist in a space of assumed guilt, where white people decide if we are allowed to be innocent or 'worthy' of championing. Oppression is systemic for a reason.
Lesson #2 – My brand new Civic must not be mine
In the early 2000s, I got my first brand new car, a red Honda Civic I named Cassandra. I was 5’4” and weighed about 115 pounds soaking wet. I cut all my hair off right before graduating from college and it was pretty easy for me to look like a cute, little, teenage boy, particularly when I was sitting in my car with no earrings. I still had the temporary tags on Cassandra. My real license plates hadn’t arrived yet, but we were rolling hard.
One of my girlfriends and I were going somewhere I can't remember, when we were stopped by the cops. Ironically, on the same road my family was stopped in the early 90's, pretty close to the same location. I didn’t have enough road to pick up speed, so I KNEW I wasn’t speeding and initially, I was totally confused about why I was being stopped. Not only was I confused, I was mad. That childhood trauma was bubbling up.
When the officer, who was black, approached my car, he seemed very surprised to see me behind the wheel. I believe his initial shock was that I was a cute young woman, not a teenage boy. At this point, I had done enough organizing work with the PG County chapter of Amnesty International and the People's Coalition for Police Accountability to know the extent of police brutality in PG. At the time, black folks really had to jump through hoops if they were driving a car that was not registered or insured in their name, even with permission from the owner. The assumption was that we were all thieves, instead of just borrowing our mom's car.
After the cop was surprised to see me, he took my license, registration, and insurance, and was equally surprised when all of those documents were in my name. He ran me through the system in his car, gave me back my documents, and let me go. He never told me why I was stopped. I don’t even remember asking because I was so angry about being pulled over, calming down was my main goal. By the end of the encounter, we both knew why I was stopped. He thought he would find a teenage boy riding dirty, instead of a young woman who bought Cassandra with her own credit and kept her license, registration, and insurance current—none of which is a crime.
Lesson #3 – I almost got arrested
I was still black in 2006 when I was stopped by the cops again. Counting my original trauma with my family, this was the fifth or six time I was pulled over in my life. (The other times leading up to this were in central Pennsylvania, need I say more). I was lucky in this regard because I knew I could have been subjected to even more racial profiling. Philando Castile, who was murdered for complying with the cop's request to produce his driver's license, had been pulled over 52 times before his death. Whether it is stop and frisk, driving while black, or doing anything while black, our entire existence has been criminalized.
Almost getting arrested involved yet another incident in PG County, even closer to my childhood home. This one hurt a great deal, most likely because the officer was also a black woman, my family was involved, and there were many layers to this incident. One afternoon I took off from work to take my mom and brother to the doctor. PG County’s finest were out and about doing their best to beat the hope and spirits out of its citizenry. I was traveling on a neighborhood street that led to my parents’ house and noticed a police car sitting around the corner. That was the street I needed to turn onto to take my mom and brother home.
My stomach dropped, two cops just sitting in a car is never a good sign. My hair was cut low and I was wearing an unfashionable hoodie with no earrings, plus we were three black people in a car. I tried to brush it off. I figured it was monthly quota time and they were filling in their numbers with real or perceived residential speeders, but I wasn’t speeding so I should be good. There are constantly children in this area so I would never risk hitting a child playing outside. I stopped at the stop sign, made a right turn, and proceeded to my mom’s house. The police were facing the opposite direction when I made that right turn, but now, they are following me.
A half a block away from the house I was stopped. This time, I asked why. The officer tells me that I failed to stop at the stop sign. Her white male partner is hovering nearby but the black lady, Officer B, is doing all the talking. I knew this whole stop was a lie. By 2006, I was driving a Honda Civic Hybrid, which had a function called auto-assist (integrated motor assist). Auto-assist indicated when the car was stopped and recharging, as it would switch between gas and the battery when it was stopped.
What you mean I didn’t stop officer? Even my car said I stopped. I read the entire ticket, from front to back, and asked a few questions including, ‘what happens if I don’t sign the ticket’. In general, my experience with people is that they do not like to be questioned, especially if they feel like they are the authority on something or that you are not the type of person 'worthy' of having inquiries answered. Officer B proceeds to tell me that she is just going to arrest me, opens my car door, and grabs my arm. As I am about to be dragged out of my car, my mom is imploring me to sign the ticket. Mommy has had a lot of her own life trauma (that we don't talk about) and this whole incident added to the pile. I reluctantly signed the ticket and we were let go.
I am sure Officer B thought she had given me enough latitude by allowing me to read the ticket. She didn’t enjoy our conversation, nor did I, and here we were two black women faced off in a system designed to oppress us both, except she had the legal authority to kill me and be exonerated. To this day, I know if my mother was not in the car, I would have been arrested, and most likely assaulted. The PG County police, like all police departments, have mastered the art of ass whooping, especially when it comes to black people.
When Sandra Bland was pulled over, and ultimately murdered in jail, her story immediately resonated with me. She wasn’t yelling at the officer or threatening him, she was just tired. All she wanted was to be able to ask some questions, get some answers, and smoke her cigarette in her own damn car. Without my mom in the car, I was Sandra Bland. Why are you stopping me again, unnecessarily, officer? You think I didn't put on a turn signal, or that I came to a rolling stop instead of a full stop? We are more likely to be stopped solely based on the color of our skin and these small infractions, real or made up, quickly lead to jail time, fines, or death for black people.
Officer B was not having me question her authority, or her assessment of my stopped vehicle, and on that day, she was ready to yoke me out the car to prove it. Once I stopped crying, I started organizing. I filed an official complaint with PG County Police Department. An investigator went to my mom's house to talk her about the incident (I was not present), I wrote two form letters, and sent them out to ALL my contacts, even my white co-workers. I knew letters from white people would pull more weight, besides this was a ‘black on black’ offense so it could be about ‘the system’ without being about race.
Normally, I would not have asked my white coworkers. In general, I have had too many conversations with white people, and even model minority people, centered around denials that racism ‘is a thing’ and informing me that even if it was a thing, it isn't systemic. Those conversations have left me scarred. I learned discussing race in the workplace is a futile endeavor. Safe, real conversations involving race are excruciatingly hard to find in workplaces. I’m not talking about the one black co-worker I can keep it real with, I am taking about real conversations with people who can decide employment status. Working for a variety of “social justice” organizations, in particular, taught me that white do-gooders don’t want to hear that their perceptions of themselves are not matching up with the reality.
I asked everyone to use the form letters to send messages to 12 local and state government officials. I personally wrote to all 12 officials as well. My co-worker in India, who I still love to pieces, even though we haven’t been co-workers in more than a decade, did me the biggest solid and got her people to write letters too. The Prince George’s County Government, police, and elected officials were receiving international correspondences about the human rights abuses in their backyard, and their treatment of black residents.
At the end of the day though, the system typically wins. Oppression is systemic for a reason. Although the stop happened in October 2006, by May 2007, my court date was still not set. By this time, I was over America and had signed a contract to teach English in Japan. I finally received a court date for two weeks after my mid-June flight to Japan. By this point I didn’t give a fuck what PG County or the state of Maryland was fitting to do, I was rolling out. The state could find me guilty and suspend my license, I would be in Japan. I was done and ready to die on that sword.
During this time, I was paying for what used to be called Pre-Paid Legal. I informed the Pre-Paid lawyer of the whole situation, including the ridiculous amount of time that elapsed since I received the ticket and the court date and the fact that I was leaving the country. I had been ready for my day in court for so long, I felt as if PG was intentionally messing with me by giving me a date for after my escape from America. My soul was tired. The lawyer went to court on my behalf. The case was thrown out on a technicality, apparently the time frame hindered due process. The County did not care about my little international letter writing campaign and ‘the investigation’ into the incident placed no fault with Officer B's actions.
Lesson #4 – The cops had the wrong house
I don’t even need to be in my car to have cop issues. Many black men are simply walking down the street when they have cop issues. I was home sick in a little row house condo I purchased in Landover, MD not too far from the parents. There was a knock on my door. It’s the PG County Police. I lived on a street where the next parallel street had the same house numbers and a similar sounding street name (I know.) The officer said someone called to report a disturbance at my address. No officer, I have been home sick all day and I did not make that call. You are probably looking for the house on the other street. I am at the door because you were knocking, like the police. The officer either did not believe I was home alone or is legitimately thought I was in danger. He asked to come in.
I was of two minds. If I say no, this white man will find a reason to come in, either now or later, then search my house. If I say yes, he will come in now and search my house. The outcome was going to be the same. A part of me really wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he was truly concerned about my well-being, but my house was still in a black, working class neighborhood. I am pretty sure he wanted to make sure I wasn’t lying. He came in, looked around the first level, then left. I got to go back to being sick, but Breonna Taylor or Atatiana Jefferson were not as fortunate. Both women were killed by police in the comforts of their own home.
Lesson #5 – Driving while black
Unfortunately, my run-ins with police continued. I noticed that I earnestly tended to get stopped more often when I was wearing my short boy haircut and no earrings, but I am not naive. The PG County cops had a fondness for harassing black boys and men in their vehicles, but black women are equally susceptible to police violence. Failures to recognize the role of intersectionality makes our plight less visible.
In 2014, I was driving down Route 1 in Maryland, not speeding, using my turn signals to change lanes, doing the whole nine, including minding my business. I notice the police following me for a few miles, then finally the lights went on and I am pulled over. I pull into a parking area and a white cop approaches my car. Why am I being stopped? My taillight is out. Really? My lights are regularly checked at oil changes and other maintenance appointments, but I suppose being followed for miles will ultimately lead to a taillight discovery, in broad daylight.
I received a “fix it” citation which required the “issue” to be fixed within 30 days, or my car's registration would be suspended. In order to prove the issue was rectified, the cops must sign off on the ticket. Nuisance laws and unnecessary traffic tickets act to cripple the economically disadvantaged and to put folks in the system, who would otherwise not be there. Our society has a natural reflex to punish the poor for being poor. Minor offenses create a domino effect in people's lives, further contributing to poverty. Then we equate lack of resources with a moral defect. It's a classic in the systems that oppress people playbook.
I sometimes wonder if the cops follow us around to run our plates, then still decide to fuck with us when our records come back clean and to really fuck with us if they don't come back clean. I don't understand following someone for a period of time, when pulling them over expeditiously is always an option. I went to one of the Maryland State Trooper Barracks, when the sun began to set, to make sure it was easy to see the light working. I was told come back at a different time for officer safety! What about my safety having to come to the barracks again? I went back the next day at 8 am. The sun was so bright, I know it was harder to see the taillight, but the paperwork was approved.
Lesson #6 – I’m not saying there aren’t any good apples
In a comedy special, Chris Rock quipped, “Some jobs can’t have bad apples.” As we have already established, problems with police go far beyond individual cops. White supremacist groups are embedded in precincts all over the country and America has a racist history of policing, as well as a plain ‘ole racist history. The one time I truly got a break on the road, I had actually broken the law and was legitimately speeding on the Beltway in Maryland. I was only given a warning by the black, male, State Trooper who pulled me over.
In 2015, I was having a hands-free phone conversation with a girlfriend and didn't realize I was driving over the speed limit. I wasn't even checking for cops so when I saw the lights behind me, and realized they were for me, I was genuinely surprised and immediately pulled over. I looked like a deer in headlights when the cop approached my car. My fear was palpable. I was already stopped on the Beltway, which is nerve wrecking within itself, and now I may die at the side of the road because I didn't realize I was speeding.
I am not alone in experiencing the disdain emanating from some cops. A 2017 study of body cam video showed, “officers speak with consistently less respect toward black versus white community members, even after controlling for the race of the officer, the severity of the infraction, the location of the stop, and the outcome of the stop.” We literally get less respect that Rodney Dangerfield. He had nothing on black folks. Yet, we are expected to always be cordial and pleasant, even in the face of imminent danger. Being pleasant still does not prevent our deaths. Every day, black people are tasked with de-escalating situations involving police. We are expected to have more skills and tact than the people who have chosen to ‘protect and serve.’
I was scared that speeding would become a capital offense and was waiting for the proverbial book to be thrown at me. It was getting dark outside, which made me even more nervous. I don’t remember what he asked. I know I had to have given him my license and registration. He looked at my terrified face, then at my car's dashboard, which had my “just breathe” and “one day at a time” affirmations. Additionally, I was coming from work, dressed "like a professional" (and wearing earrings). I know he was taking in the whole scene. I think he actually saw me as full human being that day. He went back to his car and when he came back to mine, told me he was giving me a warning, and to slow down. I had never gotten a warning before, so I wasn't sure of the protocol. There was none, I got to go home, I didn’t die that day, and didn’t have to pay a warning fine or anything like that!
Other times I was stopped for speeding, I knew I was speeding and didn't trip over it, especially if the cop treated me like a person. On my solo cross-country road trip from San Diego back to Maryland, I was stopped in Wyoming. I intentionally took a northern route back to MD because I was terrified of driving through the South alone. I am accustomed to northern racism and can better handle its manifestations. I knew I was doing around 90 mph when the po-po got me. I should have slowed down when the rest of speeders did, but that cross country road trip was a killer and I was rushing to a rest stop to get some coffee. This cop was super nice. He saw my California tags and my car full of stuff and figured I was moving. Me and this white dude had a lovely chat about how I was heading back to MD to start a new job in DC. I still got a ticket, but he wasn't a dick about it and I really appreciated that. Besides, he did me a solid. The ticket said I was going 6+ miles over the speed limit, instead of 20. I paid the fine and kept it moving.
I was also legitimately speeding when I received my other two speeding tickets. One was in Central PA and everybody was speeding, but my black friend and I got pulled over. No surprises there. The cop had a bit of a 'tude, but I remained pleasant. I smiled, took the ticket, and thanked the officer and he chose not to kill us. With the other speeding ticket, I saw the cop, but he already had someone else hemmed up on the other side of the road. I figured I was safe, but nope, he made a U-turn and got me too! I was in a bad mood that day so that situation could have really went left if the officer was a dick. I can admit when I have done something wrong. I have no issue with that. My desire is to be treated like a human being regardless of the infraction.
Lesson #7 – Don’t bother going to court
In 2015, I was in a right turning lane in DC and out of nowhere this cop cuts me off, in traffic, so he could make the right turn first, before the bus stopped to pick up passengers. This was a white cop and this nigga knew he cut me off and that I was planning on turning right. Even though he was ahead of me, he waited until I turned then pulled me over to give me a ticket for passing the bus. He literally gave me a ticket for something he did not see me do but anticipated I would do because he cut me off and knew I would not have enough time to pass the bus before it stopped.
I went to court and lost, the Asian female judge and the white male cop were friends, and she didn’t care that the cop didn’t see me commit the act and just assumed I did. ‘Passing a bus that is stopped to unload or pick up passengers is against the law in DC’ and that’s all the man’s representative had to say on the subject. The message was clear, just pay the ticket because the odds are not in your favor. I wasted a whole day going down to court to still feel unheard. I could have paid the $100 before it became $240.
Lesson #8 – The MVA set me up for a run-in with the cops
I moved back to Maryland after a few years of living in California (CA). I was trying to re-register my car and switch my driver’s license back to MD. Unfortunately, I had multiple issues at the Motor Vehicle Association (MVA), an entity that clearly didn't realize the importance of their accuracy in black lives. The first time I went to the MVA, I was told I couldn’t get a MD license because I had an “unpaid” ticket from DC. The reciprocity agreement between the two jurisdictions meant I had to pay DC, before MD would give me a license.
Wait? What unpaid ticket? You mean that ticket I went to court for, and lost the case, then had pay $240? I know I paid all of those monies. Turns out, the MVA had the proof from DC that the ticket was paid, but never updated their records. It took me keeping my records—I saved the email confirmation of the payment AND kept a paper copy—to resolve this via phone, before I was told I could try again at the MVA. The second time I went, their system was down, and driver’s license services were unavailable.
My CA driver license was still valid, so I decided to least register my car (named Blu) since the ticket situation was cleared up. MVA tells me I must produce a CA title. Wait, I never titled my car in CA, I just registered it and CA doesn’t require title AND registration; therefore, I only did a registration. I explained to the agent that my car was still titled in MD. She was very confused until her supervisor cleared it up. I registered Blu and received a duplicate Maryland title. I believe I am good to go.
Third time is charm for the driver’s license, but MD doesn’t change license numbers. I will have the same number as before I moved to CA. Now I am worried. What if the mix up remains in the system and I am stopped by a cop who thinks I am driving on a suspended license? One late night / early morning in early 2019, I was pulled over by Takoma Park police, who were in a highly visible location. I thought they were looking for drunk drivers, but I wasn’t drunk, and I wasn’t speeding, I got pulled over anyway. The cops were running plates as people passed by.
I immediately texted my friends. Someone needed to know what was going on at almost 1:00 a.m. License and registration please. I produce both and my insurance card. The cop spends and extended amount of time at his car. He comes back saying his computer system says, my registration has been suspended since 2016. What you taking 'bout officer? I just registered this car in 2018. I was living in CA in 2016, where I had both a valid driver’s license and a registered car. Blu was not re-registered in MD until 2018. How was my registration suspended before I even got it? The MVA was straight up trying to get me arrested and/or killed.
The cop was just as confused as I. Maybe it’s the move, he suggested. Does MD have a valid address for you? Yes, they do officer, my address on file has not changed since 2007. MVA has a valid postal mail and email address for me. We were both still confused, but it’s late and he appears to believe me. He doesn't drag me off to jail, and instead writes me a warning ticket. What if I had gotten a different cop who believed his computer, instead of my documents and words? I could have easily been arrested for driving with suspended registration, even though I had no idea what was happening.
These warning tickets look really official and the suspicious Caribbean in me was wondering if there was a 'warning database.' THREE violations were listed on the ticket and they all made me nervous:
TA-13-401 (h) Driving vehicle on a highway with suspended registration
TA-13-702 (a) Driving vehicle on a highway with suspended registration
TA-13-702 (b) Owner permitting vehicle to be driven on a highway if registration is suspended
The stop occurred on Saturday night and now I am terrified to drive on Sunday. On Monday, I called the MVA, I could tell the agent I was speaking to was a black woman. I explained that I could have been arrested, or worse, and I still don’t understand the problem. The problem was VEIP (Vehicle Emissions Inspection), but it didn’t make a lot of sense. Why was VEIP is trying to have the cops arrest me? Short answer: their own incompetence.
VEIP never registered my move to CA in there database and suspended my registration in 2016, even though I had registered Blu in CA, got insurance in CA, done the CA version of VEIP, and returned one of my MD tags. When I came back and tried to register Blu in 2018, I was supposed to have an emissions test done, but with the title confusion, Blu was registered without proof of emissions.
Here is where it gets dangerous. I never received a notice from VEIP to get my emissions done, even though the MVA had my email and mailing address. I didn't get a notice until I was on the phone with a representative, who sent an email extending the period of time for emissions testing, during the conversation. The notice arrived in my email address at that juncture and VEIP had no record of any prior correspondence. The question still remains, if I was supposed to have VEIP done in 2018, why did the computer say the registration had been suspended since 2016? Only Jesus knows. I was just glad I wasn’t arrested for something I had no control over.
The wrap up
Black people get killed for things we have no control over, all day every day, even when we are “good citizens,” who lead “normal lives” and pay our bills on time. I keep my payment receipts, organize my filing systems, don’t do drugs, hardly drink, and try to keep some joy in my spirit, but all of that is irrelevant. None of that keeps me safe and none of that humanizes in the face of police or oppression.
I can't image how much harder life would be if any of my run-ins with the cops gave me a criminal record. It doesn’t matter what I say, what I do, or how “respectable” I may be perceived, I am still black in America, at the mercy of Karen everywhere and the whims of the cops. I am exhausted, we are exhausted. We know that systems of oppression don't care about our respectability, and that ultimately good people still end up dead for no good reason.