I dared to challenge a cop… Part 2

In part 1, I shared my encounter with a crooked cop in 1999. He cited me for reckless driving, which was a completely bogus charge. He was in the wrong, and he knew it, which is why he failed to show up in court a month later. I was exonerated, but since that injustice against me I’ve been wary of police personnel and their intentions. I dared to challenge him, question him, at times my voice dripping with sarcasm. There was no witness to this abuse of police power, nor did I have a camera to videotape the incident, as is often the case these days when evidence of police brutality is captured and shared on social and news media sites. It is important to note that I walked away from this heated exchange physically unharmed. Many of our fellow Americans cannot say the same.


The Black Lives Matter Movement has increased awareness about the number of African Americans killed—often unarmed—by police and imprisoned for even minor infractions. Whether you agree with Black Lives Matter’s ideas or tactics, to dismiss what it is they are trying to accomplish and communicate means racial tensions and misunderstandings will continue during law enforcement interventions and that needed adjustments to policies that will eradicate institutional racism will never happen. It behooves white people to listen to what they are saying, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes us, and even more important, to listen without getting defensive.

Brittney Cooper wrote on Salon.com of Black Lives Matter:

“To be clear, the Black Lives Matter Movement is not an anti-cop movement. It is a movement that vigorously and voraciously opposes the overpolicing of Black communities and the state-sanctioned killing of unarmed Black people (and yes, all people) by the police. It is a movement that insists on holding police accountable for their violence and that will hold police to a higher standard precisely because the state gives police the right to use lethal force. With more power comes more responsibility.

 But here’s the thing: White people know this. Conservative Black people who insist on speaking about the rule of law and the issue of Black-on-Black crime know this. This is basic. They know that these young people don’t want to kill cops. They want the cops to stop killing them.”

Law enforcement officers deserve our respect, but respect goes both ways. One can simultaneously support policemen yet still want them to be held accountable for gross negligence or outright murder. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive, but that seems to be what is reflected on today’s social media sites: If you support Black Lives Matter, you must hate all police. If you support the police, you hate African Americans. It’s not that simple.

Still, there are many instances where police officers have been exonerated, even when video proves what transpired. Below are a few examples of police overreach or blatant disregard for life:

A quick Google search will easily produce many instances of police brutality, overreach, and murder. The Sandra Bland case is an excellent one to contrast with my experience. She was pulled over for not signaling a lane change. She, as I did, dared to talk back to that cop, to challenge him. He made her get out of the car and then proceeded to beat her up on the side of the road. It was all caught on his car video cam. She ended up in jail and unable to pay bail, was held there. She was found dead days later in that cell, hanged with a trash bag. What happened remains a mystery, though her death has been ruled a suicide. What was she doing with a trash bag is my question.

In my case, I challenged the cop. I was hostile because I was steaming mad. He did not order me out of the car nor physically threaten me. Ms. Bland was a black woman. I am a white woman. If I’d been black when my situation occurred, would that cop have reacted or treated me the same way, without violence? The use of excessive force is a pattern we see time and again, and whites are afforded leniency in situations where blacks are not, especially in cases of illegal drug use or sales, in which African Americans are targeted at much higher rates.

No one deserves a violent death for challenging or talking back to a policeman. Even if someone gets physical with a cop, there are ways to contain the situation without using deadly force, particularly when the alleged perpetrator is outnumbered and unarmed.

And yes, law officers deserve protection too, that should go without saying. They should be able to defend themselves and the law provides them great leeway, which it should to some degree, especially during confusing confrontations. Still, we should always seek the truth and not brush these encounters—especially deadly ones—under the carpet as if those extinguished lives didn’t matter because to someone they did.

Black Lives Matter, police officers and their unions, legislators, citizens of all backgrounds need to listen to one another. Grievances are there for a reason. It’s time for understanding. The statistics don’t lie. Too many of our African American brothers and sisters are living in areas of concentrated poverty. Poverty breeds desperation, which increases the possibility of someone engaging in criminal activity, even if only for survival. Where there are higher rates of criminal activity, people will do what they have to in order to protect themselves and their loved ones, which can also lead to increased violence in these communities. Furthermore, residents in these neighborhoods find trusting law enforcement officials difficult because victims are regularly disrespected and ignored, unless they can be useful as witnesses or possess evidence.


Bureau of Justice Statistics

Blacks comprise about 13.2% of the U.S. population. However, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Prisoners in 2013 report (revised September 30, 2014) shows that non-Hispanic Blacks make-up 37% of the prison system. That number is closer to 60% if you count all people of color. Another interesting statistic in the 2013 report is that while white females comprised 49% of the prison population compared to 22% of black females, the imprisonment rate for black females (113 per 100,000) was twice the rate of white females (51 per 100,000). A Business Insider article in August highlighted many disparities in the American justice system as relates to car searches, drug-related arrests (though whites and blacks have comparable rates of drug use and sales), incarceration while waiting trial, length of sentences, and disenfranchisement due to a felony conviction, among others.

The criminal justice system desperately needs to be reformed.  It is encouraging that today this issue is receiving attention and is being discussed by legislators in both political parties. Daring to look a police officer in the eye, even to challenge or question him/her should not end in arrest, injury, or death. I dared to look and challenge, and I survived. Others aren’t as fortunate.

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