The Driving Lesson

by Soul Sista

One weekend, while on the way to an SAT prep course, a motorcycle cop pulled me over for speeding. My son was in the car. I sensed right away that there was a lesson to be taught. As the officer approached my vehicle, I told my son to place his hands on the dashboard. At 6'3", Maurice can easily be mistaken for an adult from a distance, though he was only fifteen at the time. When the officer asked for my license and registration, I told him that I would be reaching into my bag to retrieve my license. He told my son to take his hands off the dash and I explained to the officer that my son would be retrieving the registration and insurance from the glove box. The officer said that would be okay. We presented the documents to the officer, who returned to his vehicle so he could run my license. As he was doing this, I explained to my son the importance of making no movements that could be misinterpreted by the officer. I told him that he should always have his documents in a sensible place-no licenses or wallets under the seats where a gun could conceivably be placed. This is not the time to make phone calls, tell jokes or behave suspicious in any way. Even if he is not the driver, his hands should be visible to the officer from the rear window. I thought to myself how ironic it is that White parents probably don't feel compelled to have this conversation with their sons. But for African American parents, it's critical.

When the officer returned to the passenger side of my vehicle, he stated that my license was remarkably clean. This was no surprise to me, as I am a federal employee and military veteran who has held security clearances at the highest levels. The officer issued a ticket for speeding. He explained the procedure for paying the fine and that traffic school was an option to avoid license points. I told the officer that I understood what he said, I asked for my copy of the ticket in case the letter did not arrive by mail, and then I wished him a great day. We drove off.

In the end, I was cited for being 5 miles over the posted speed limit. Sounds ridiculous and most folks would probably fight the ticket, but I won't. If nothing else, the experience gave me the perfect real-life opportunity to teach my son the proper way to interact with the police during what often turns into a hostile and even deadly encounter whenever African American men are involved. In fact, it may very well prove to be the best money that I've ever spent-especially if my son's life is saved because he knows how to react when encountered by law enforcement in the future. And trust me, as an African American man, he will be. It won't matter how much money he makes, what type of car he's in or where he's driving, who he has in the car with him or where he decides to live. It'll happen regardless and that's the sad reality of it all.

The Driving Lesson by Soul Sista

© Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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