Another Example of White Privilege

Another Example of White Privilege

In case there are still folks out there who think it’s not a thing

Imagine reading this story:

A Black man runs a red light at a busy intersection, driving erratically and well over the speed limit. He swerves off the road into a parking lot. A cop pulls in behind him and screams at him to stay in his car, but he gets out anyway. The man runs to the back of his car; the cop puts his hand on his gun. Then the man pulls something out of his trunk.

What do you think happens next?

. . .

Here’s my story:

I was rushing around my kitchen, gathering cookies, cans of soda, and paper plates to take to a community picnic. I finally got everything loaded into several bags and headed to my car. As I was locking my front door, a yellow jacket flew in my face. I made the mistake of hitting it away, and it stung my hand.

So I went back in the house, scraped out the stinger, and covered the spot with a baking soda paste. It hurt like crazy, but I was in a hurry and too excited about the picnic to give it much thought. I tossed my purse and goodies in the trunk and took off.

Five minutes later, about a quarter mile before a major intersection, I had an asthma attack that came on so suddenly I knew I was in serious trouble. Up to that moment, I had no idea I was allergic to bee stings. My rescue inhaler was in my purse in the trunk, and there was no place to pull over out of traffic so I could retrieve it.

Those of you who have asthma know what this feels like. Your lungs close up instantly and panic sets in. You know you should stay calm and breathe slowly, but the terror of not getting enough air causes you to gasp, which triggers more spasms. Within a minute your vision starts to blur, your head pounds, and you break out in a cold sweat. Your life depends on that rescue inhaler.

I knew there was a parking lot just past the intersection, so I pushed the accelerator to the floor. The yellow light was just turning red as I sped through at perhaps 50 mph, then swerved off the street into the lot.

The cop was right behind me. He jumped out of his car and said something, but I couldn’t hear him over the pounding in my ears. I didn’t care what he was saying anyway. I only cared about getting my inhaler.

I hit the button on my dashboard to pop the trunk, then opened my door and got out. I was jittery and wild-eyed, and I probably looked a little crazy. Now I could hear the cop clearly. He screamed, “Get back in your car! NOW!” But I still didn’t care. I couldn’t tell him what was happening, because I couldn’t get enough air to speak.

Then I saw him put his hand on the gun in his holster. At this point everything seemed unreal, and it occurred to me that I might die from a bullet before asthma could kill me. I didn’t care about that either. I just ran to the trunk.

“Don’t do it! DON’T DO IT!!” he yelled.

I grabbed my purse, pulled out my inhaler, and sucked the life-saving drug into my lungs.

The cop finally realized what was happening. He stopped screaming at me and took his hand off his gun. When I was able to breathe again, I explained everything — the picnic, the bee, the panic, the purse. I showed him my now swollen hand and apologized several times.

“You were speeding, you ran a red light, and you ignored my commands,” he said. I should give you a ticket.” He watched me still trying to catch my breath. “I think you’ve learned your lesson though, so I’m just giving you a warning this time. But from now on, always keep your inhaler within easy reach.”

In spite of my illegal driving, erratic behavior, and flagrant disobedience, I was given the benefit of the doubt. The police officer saw me doing things he probably didn’t expect from middle-aged white woman, so he didn’t have an automatic, knee-jerk reaction.

You already know what my question is: What would have happened if I’d been Black?

Maybe that particular cop had been trained to recognize — and not act on — his unconscious bias, and everything would have been okay. Or maybe not.

Initially I was reluctant to post this story. I didn’t want to give the impression that I think all cops are racist, because I truly believe the vast majority are fair and principled. I also didn’t want to appear insensitive to Black people’s experiences with the police. But in the end, I decided to take the risk.

I hope my readers will find it useful.

. . .

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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