“…the officer could be heard saying that the traffic stop occurred “because you made direct eye contact with me and held on to it.”
“The traffic infraction was verified by the video; however making direct eye contact with an officer is not a basis for a traffic stop.”
The above incident happened recently. The “because you made direct eye contact with me and held on to it” comment reminded me of a police encounter I had back in 1999. I was pulled over by a cop in Covington, Kentucky. I’d been to a holiday party, celebrating with theatre friends and colleagues and was heading home, back to Hyde Park, which is about seven miles northeast from downtown Cincinnati off I-71. It was after midnight,
The encounter occurred at an intersection where there was a stoplight. It was green and I had the right of way because I was turning right. The cop was coming from the opposite direction and turning left. I looked the cop straight in the eye, held that contact for a few seconds as I made my turn, basically indicating/reminding him that: “Hey, buddy, I have the right of way.”
I guess he didn’t like being challenged by a woman, so he pulled me over, saying I had caused him to veer into the oncoming lane, that I was driving recklessly, when in reality it was he who was doing so. He didn’t have his lights or siren on either, otherwise, of course, I would’ve pulled over.
He stood at my driver’s window explaining this. I challenged him by asking, “Aren’t police officers held to the same traffic laws as the rest of us?” In the meantime his crony cop buddy had walked to the passenger side of my car, gawking in the window at me. Talk about an intimidating and scary situation: a small woman late at night alone with two male cops. I was scared, but I’m an actor, so I played the bravado for all it was worth. In my mind, these guys were the kind of policemen who would plant drugs in someone’s car or orchestrate something incriminating just to make an arrest.
The officer wrote a ticket, handed it to me, and said I could contest it in court. To which I replied, looking directly at him (he could hardly make eye contact with me), “Oh, you better believe I’ll see you in court, officer.”
I drove away, trembling and tears welling up in my eyes. My tough exterior crumbled as I seethed at the injustice of it. I ended up writing the Covington chief of police and carbon copied the Kentucky state attorney general as well as Covington’s judge-executive and three county commissioners. I was willing to pay the fine and court costs if needed because I was not going to just pay the fine and was determined to have my day in court to refute it. I showed up in court a month later, but that cowardly cop was nowhere to be seen. I was exonerated and didn’t have to pay one cent.
This encounter and the fact that the chief of police in Covington never responded to my letter spawned resentment toward policemen. Even to this day I’m a bit distrustful.
Read my detailed letter: Police Complaint
I would be remiss if I failed to admit that I have also been granted leniency by cops on occasion, either because I am a woman or they knew my father, who was employed by the Indiana department of corrections. It is because of experiencing the extremes of police encounters that I view the current narrative saturating the media that states you either “love or hate the police, affording no middle ground” as a gross over-simplification of the dynamics of equal justice and policing at play in our society.
This issue is too vast to possibly address all the intricacies in a blog post. The majority of policemen in this country are decent people who do a good job. They take pride in their work and want to protect and serve. It is a tough occupation and oftentimes a thankless one. They sometimes endure vitriol from citizens, encounter criminals, and face the possibility of being injured or killed in the line of duty, which is frightening, I’ve no doubt.
However, police possess much power and they are armed—at times heavily. They are granted a good deal of leniency with regards to the law that backs them up, even when sometimes what they have done is lawless. There are bad apples in the system and accountability is important when an arrest or traffic stop goes terribly wrong. That’s not to say we shouldn’t mourn the killings of police officers either. Of course, we should, even those in the Black Lives Matter movement don’t want to see cops killed, despite what some in the media are claiming. We can do better. We must.
Part two will focus on over-policing, the Black Lives Matter movement and why they should not be dismissed or demonized, and the contrast between my police encounter to that of Sandra Bland.