"To be young, gifted and black / oh what a lovely precious dream" — Nina Simone
It is a facade to say that you could grow up in the best neighborhoods, attend the best schools and live a well-off life, and not be subject to racial discrimination in 2017?
The morning of April 14th, 2017, I was speeding down Interstate 35 through Temple, Texas. If you are unfamiliar, Temple is a small, central Texas town that was in-between me and getting to visit my family in San Antonio for the Easter weekend. Knowingly driving a little too fast (80 in a 65, but everyone speeds through Temple, right?), a policeman signaled, and proceeded to pull me over.
While on the highway, I proceeded to change lanes and slow down, and looked for the safest exit to pull off at. Unable to find an exit, I resorted to pull off on the shoulder of one of the busiest highways in America, due to the uneasiness of the policeman in my rearview mirror. Standard protocol followed as I frantically searched for the most updated copy of my insurance, digged for my license, and above all, remained calm and respectful of the policeman's orders.
When the policeman approached my window, he sarcastically asked (like they always do), "Do you know why I am pulling you over?"
I explained that yes, I was driving too fast, and handed him all of my documentation so that he could hurry and write the ticket so that I could continue my day as scheduled.
But it's never that simple when you're black in America.
After he took a look at my license, and idled at his motorcycle for what seemed like 30 minutes, he came back and handed me the citation through the window, visibly shaking.
"I am giving you a citation for speeding, and another citation for not pulling over fast enough when you saw my lights."
I calmly explained to the police officer that I did not pull over immediately because I was trying to look for the nearest and safest exit to stop at, to protect my safety (and his safety as well), and that I also have the right to pull over to a safe area. He was not compliant, and insisted that I was in the wrong, subject to pull over immediately, as soon as I saw his lights behind me.
The second citation he gave me is 545.156 under the Texas Transportation Code, which refers to not yielding to an emergency vehicle. An emergency vehicle was not present. The citation he gave me was incorrect—and in fear and, possibly, racial hatred.
I couldn't fight, I couldn't argue, I couldn't even bring myself to explain the situation further in fear that it might escalate, and I might be another unfortunate headline in the media. If law enforcement can't stand for the truth and what is right, then I have to stand in my own truth. We have to stand in the truth.
Despite the zip code I live in, the family I come from, the Cum Laude degree I received in 3 years, my corporate job and countless other accomplishments, I am still subject to discrimination by law enforcement as a young, gifted and black woman. I think to myself, "How can I be perceived as threatening to a policeman?" I was wearing yoga pants. I was driving a Volkswagen Passat. I was drinking Starbucks and listening to XO by Beyonce at 9am.
The system is not for us. It continues to leave our community broken and financially strained in more ways than one. It would have been financially impossible to take the incorrect citation to trial and dispute it. Instead, I have to pay for a citation that did not happen. A crime that I never committed.
In situations like these, we have to remember those affected by police brutality and unfair treatment by law enforcement. Remember Rodney King. Remember Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and others.
Remembering takes courage to stand in the truth, and to not brush every headline off like it could never happen to us, or a family member, or a friend. We have to take the blindfold off and acknowledge history and the present for what it is. It is the only way to move forward in truth.
"To be young, gifted and Black / There is a world waiting for you / This is a quest that has just begun" — Nina Simone