If I Were Black


I was pulled over twice during my trip from Milwaukee, WI to Bushnell, FL, where I was required to return for court proceedings. The first stop occurred in Illinois for speeding, despite the fact that the car ahead of me was traveling at a higher rate of speed. The officer told me he was interested in my vehicle because I have Colorado plates and the highway is a known drug corridor. The practice of license plate profiling was ruled unconstitutional by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, although it didn’t make much difference because I was speeding, but does allow me to understand why two vehicles were speeding and I was the one he chose to pull over. However, in the climate of the overemphasis of racial discrimination, if I were black and not as social with the officer as I chose to be, I probably would have thought he pulled me over and not the faster car in front of me because I’m black, if I were black.

The second stop occurred in Florida. The officer approached the vehicle and asked me how I was doing? I was frustrated and said “I’d be doing better if I wasn’t pulled over because I have a Colorado license plate”, as the incident from the previous day in IL was still fresh in my mind, and having the experience of being pulled over for the case I was returning for, where I believe my license plate contributed to officers decision to pull me over for not wearing my seatbelt.

The deputy told me he pulled me over because he couldn’t get my tag to come back. The other officer in FL who pulled me over in December had the same problem because Colorado uses the letter O in their plates, and according to this sheriff deputy all other states use the number 0. The officer in Illinois didn’t have the same problem. It seemed like a pretext to make contact, the opportunity to look in the vehicle and see if there was anything in plain sight which could justify probable cause for a search. Had there been something, like a joint roach, and if it led to uncovering other contraband the charges would probably be dismissed for illegal search and seizure. The basis being a reasonable person would have entered the letter O when the number 0 failed to return results. Therefore the officer had no reasonable suspicion to make contact with me which makes my detention illegal. Without the detention there would be no opportunity to spot contraband that creates probable cause for the search and discovery of additional contraband. Of course I had no contraband, but I still think about the ramifications based on the circumstances of the stop.

After the officer told me the reason for the stop I relaxed and we had a casual conversation after he requested my registration and I offered my license. Technically, I probably didn’t have to provide him with either since I was able to explain the cause for my tags not coming back. With the information I provided he could have entered my plate correctly and had no reasonable suspicion to request any information from me. We had brief conversation, I explained I was pulled over in IL, and how the officer admitted he profiled me over my plate. The deputy told me he doesn’t pay attention to plates he pays attention to drivers. He said his interest in me was I squirmed in my seat when I saw him and then changed to the slow lane after I passed him.

There was a vehicle on the shoulder of the interstate which is why I moved to the middle lane, and after passing the stopped vehicle I moved back to the slow lane. I did squirm when I passed him which was partially because I was worried about being pulled over because I don’t have insurance. Of course I didn’t offer this explanation and I hadn’t prepared an explanation for the movement so I didn’t respond to that observation. In Illinois I used a tactic my dad told me about when he used to travel but didn’t have insurance because at the time it wasn’t required in Wisconsin. My dad kept papers in his vehicle and would frantically search through the papers until the officer would let him go. In the day and age of cell phones and email, this tactic can’t be employed without some modification.

Knowing I was driving across the country without insurance I prepared a friend for a phone call. I told the officer the insurance was purchased by a friend and I forgot to take the printed proof with me. Then I called the friend and asked her to check the emails and forward the email to me. The officer may have known I didn’t have insurance, but he wasn’t interested in writing me tickets, he was admittedly interested in finding large quantities of controlled substances which he knew I did not possess. He probably knew this based not only on my social openness with him, but also on my appearance, as my jewelry and image generally causes me to look like someone who sells drugs. My values of style are the same as when I used to sell drugs, and in his experience, I’m sure he knows that anyone who is trafficking large quantities of drugs is careful not to look like a stereotypical drug dealer. I was also candid about my business in Florida, explaining to him I had court for possession of a small amount of marijuana.

I presumed the deputy in Florida pulled me over because I had Colorado plates and mentioned as much. This of course was not the reason. But suppose I didn’t offer a reason, and he simply stated he pulled me over because my tag didn’t come back. Now suppose I was black. As I mentioned concerning the stop in IL, there was a car traveling faster than I was traveling in front of me and the officer chose to pull me over, and if I were black I may have thought it was racially motivated. Now if I were black, here I am again pulled over in Florida by an officer who claims he pulled me over because he couldn’t get my tags to come back. Most people who entered a 0 instead of an O would have tried the O before pulling me over, and if I were black I would have to consider that this stop too was racially motivated.

At the proceeding I intended to enter a guilty plea for probation which was discussed when I met with my attorney the day before my last court date. I prepared a motion rooted in his misconduct that he refused to adopt. When entering a plea the judge asks a series of questions which includes are you satisfied with the advice of your lawyer, have you had enough time to consult with your lawyer, and has your lawyer answered all of your questions. I was going to use these questions to present my attorney’s misconduct to the court.

I meticulously prepared a brief explaining 9 instances of misconduct for violations of the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct. The rules of professional conduct are the rules a person practicing law in the state must follow to practice law. One half of the criteria for ineffective assistance of counsel requires demonstrating that an attorney’s representation falls below an objective standard of reasonableness, and the FRPC is an objective standard.

When my case was called I approached the podium prepared to give my presentation when my attorney told the judge I haven’t had an opportunity to reach my client by phone, and asked for a continuation. I was caught completely off guard. I turned to my attorney and said “you haven’t tried to call me, I thought we were going to go with the plea?” I was then told by the judge that such conduct “can get me in trouble”.

I have been dealing with an attorney who has failed to return my phone calls and communicate with me for 6 months, and a judge who finds my style distasteful and gives very little weight to my words. My attorney is not properly representing me, and the judge makes it difficult for me to be heard in court. Each time I’ve appeared in court there has been controversy between myself and my attorney, the judge is disinterested, and this controversy suggests a defendant in a case he is presiding over is not being properly represented.

If I was black, I may think race is the motivation. A white public defender, a white judge, in a small primarily white county. I’ve been dealing with these kinds of issues my entire life, and I’m still looking for signs of the white privilege I’ve heard so much about.

If I was black, I would probably think back to the charges that led to this situation. I possessed less than 3 grams of marijuana, which the officer weighed in a container to inflate the amount to 15 grams. The charge is still the same, possession of marijuana less than 20 grams, but as a matter of fact it looks worse to have possessed 15 grams than to have possessed 3 grams, and one weight is true and the other is not. I possessed 4 gummy THC edibles, the combined potency equivalent to 1.5 grams of the marijuana I possessed. I possessed a pipe.

The officer who pulled me over for not wearing my seatbelt, who told me he had discretion over misdemeanors, and after I had been completely cooperative, charged me with 2 felonies and 4 misdemeanors, and in what seemed like an effort to antagonize me, gave me a warning for the seatbelt violation. He charged me with felony possession of a controlled substance. He charged me with maintaining a public nuisance structure for drug activity, which is basically a drug house and is a felony. He charged me with possession of marijuana less than 20 grams which is a misdemeanor. He charged me with 3 counts of possession of paraphernalia, one for the pipe, one for the container the marijuana was in, and one for the container the edibles were in, all three misdemeanors. 14 years worth of charges for what I thought wouldn’t amount to more than a ticket. If I were black, I would think his motivation to inflate these charges was racially motivated. Instead I understand his career opportunity and advancement potential depends on the amount of arrests he makes, the amount of charges he presses, and the quality of those charges. I surmise after the dog hit on my vehicle, with Colorado license plates, he was greatly disappointed with what he found and wanted to make the most out of the stop.

I left the court house. I didn’t have enough money to get back home which I knew to be the case when I left. I presumed on finding a gig on Craigslist which I rely on for income to maintain a free schedule while I work on projects of interest, which I hope will eventually sustain me. Craigslist gigs are listings for usually 1 day help that pays cash the same day.

I drove to a rest area a little bit past Macon, GA. This gave me the opportunity to check Macon listings, and Atlanta listings. It was dreadfully hot, mid-90s with high humidity. I played risk on my phone and read the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct while checking listings every few minutes. The few listings that posted between when I arrived late afternoon August 21st, and when I left mid-afternoon August 22nd, I didn’t get to in time, despite checking the listing about once every 5 to 10 minutes.

I slept for a few hours in my car. Eventually I decided I was too far from Atlanta as there were some listings that required someone to show up within the hour and I was still about 60 miles from Atlanta. On the evening of the 20th I bought a Little Caesar’s pizza. I saved two slices for the following day which is all ate on the 21st. Leaving the rest area just north of Macon with a little over half a tank of gas and 9 dollars I stopped at Taco Bell and spent two dollars on a pair of cheesy bean and rice burritos. I went to a Walmart parking lot in Stockenbridge, GA, where I resumed monitoring the CL gigs listings. I decided to beat the heat by going to the library and begin assembling my brief to file a complaint against the judge while I continued to look for work.
I contacted my friend Steve earlier in the day. Most of the people I know are of limited means. Not to mention the fact that it is difficult for me to ask for help, as I often encounter difficult situations like the one I found myself in and I am able to find a way out of them. I also don’t like to be a burden on other people and impose on their resources. Steve who recently received money from a settlement for a car accident along with my friend Holly sent me gas money to make it home.

These details are relevant to the next point of this trip. I stopped for fuel somewhere 30 to 60 miles north of Atlanta on I75. I went into a Mc Donald’s. I ordered two double cheeseburgers and a large coke. The service was incredibly slow. The woman calling out the numbers had a voice of irritation that rivaled finger nails on a chalk board. She called out 115, the second time saying 115, 2 double cheeseburgers. I commented about her frustration, as I just sat there for close 10 minutes at a fast food restaurant that wasn’t very busy, and I didn’t appreciate her service which implied her calling out the wrong number for my order was somehow my fault.

There was another customer who also ordered two double cheeseburgers before me who I believe was number 115. The most likely explanation is she removed my order from the screen and left his order on the screen. Another customer who I think was also a McDonald’s employee but not in uniform joined the discussion adding nothing of merit. I mentioned that her frustration was her mistake. She pointed confidently to her screen saying see 115 two double cheese burgers while I was on my way out. Before exiting the store I showed my receipt, 116, crumpled it up and threw it on floor and gave them a middle finger as I exited. I was tired, hungry, and did not need the shit they were giving me. Kind of funny in hindsight is the fact that after I middle fingered the woman who joined the controversy, and she returned the gesture, her boyfriend middle fingered me through the window after I was outside, which prompted me to middle finger him back, and another customer middle fingered me which started something of a middle finger war as I left the Mc Donalds. I felt stupid for initiating the gesture, but there are times in my life it could have led to something much worse. If I were black, I may have thought my service and the issue that ensued occurred because of race. Rural Georgia, primarily white make up within the establishment, and white customers inserting themselves in a dispute where the employee was wrong. Since I am not black, I understand this is a small town, they know each other casually if not personally, and I’m clearly not from round’ err.

Since I am not black, I know none of the events that took place were racially motivated, but as I drove I became acutely aware of how a handful of events can serve as the basis for the formation of stereotypes and prejudice. My thoughts were related to all the negative experiences I’ve had in the region, those mentioned as well as others I did not mention, and my anger was directed at all the people of the region itself. I quickly recognized that these interactions was not representative of the values and attitudes of millions of people in the region, but many people are not as privy to the formation of their views as I am. Again, if I were black, every one of these incidents may have seemed racially motivated, and living in a climate in the United States where race, gender, and sexuality discrimination is over emphasized, these experiences, would have left impressions that led to the conclusion that white people are racist, and caused a black person to be racially prejudice against white people in response.

I don’t deny that racism and prejudice exists. In fact, all people are prejudice, and prejudice has to do with more than just race. Prejudice pertains to any grouping, genre of music, style of dress, occupation, hair color, astrology sign, etc. Individual’s and groups who are a part of a group leave impressions on individual’s and these impressions will serve as the basis for their opinion of people before they interact with them.

For example. A person may be at the grocery store shopping. Each person they see they will have some opinion of based on how that person’s characteristics relate to the impressions left on that person by sources of those characteristics. Race is a characteristic. Based on the impressions left on people regarding people of other races all people have racial prejudice. The difference between racial prejudice, and racism, is when a person interacts with a person of another race they allow the interaction to serve as the basis of their opinion about that person; whereas a person who is racist will treat the person according to their prejudice and the prejudice will be preserved despite the person of the other race exhibiting behavior that contradicts the prejudice. Contrary to this explanation of racism, the only proven way to change the mind of a racist is welcomed and repeated exposure to people who challenge the individual’s prejudice.

The purpose of this article is to reassert a point I often make on discussions of race. Mainly, that systemic racism is nearly non-existent. More specifically, a person born non-white, and into money, benefits from all the same advantages as a white person born into money. And if you are born white and poor, you face all the same disadvantages as a non-white person born poor.