Friday, August 22, 2008

Racial Profiling

So yesterday I was on my way home from work with my wife, and we got pulled over - for driving while white.
You might be thinking right now, that's impossible, but hear me out. We work in downtown Chicago and take the interstate home, often times, the interstate is backed up, and so we, not wanting to sit in traffic, have found alternative means to get home, and this sometimes entails driving through the neighborhoods that are predominantly black. I'm not going to call the area "the ghetto" or "the hood" because I don't feel like these people are out to do harm (the only person that has ever disturbed us driving through this area has been a white, homeless man), they are simply less fortunate and thus live within their means - which just might not be as much as we have, and there is no shame in that.
So we were driving down a street through one of these neighborhoods and we came to a stop sign. At the adjacent stop sign sat the Chicago Police. Since they had arrived at the sign first, naturally, they went before us. But what they did, as they pulled slowly through the intersection, was stare; without a single attempt to hide this fact. My wife and I began to talk about it jokingly with one another since we knew we were the "white people" and they were checking us out. Turns out, they wanted to investigate even further, for when we turned behind the officers (2 officers were in their vehicle) they promptly pulled over to allow us around, only to pull directly back into the street behind us. We instantly thought, "we've seen this on Cops - they want to check us out," but they did not readily pull us over (because we came to another light). When that light turned green, we pulled onto the main artery only to hear and see the familiar "bloop" of the car behind us and the blue lights flashing.
When the officer walked to the driver's side door (with the other officer flanking the passenger side of the vehicle), he didn't utter a single word of "I pulled you over because . . .," nor did he ask us "do you know why I pulled you over?" Instead, he cut to the chase with, "why were you driving down Wentworth (the name of the street we were on)?" Considering it was rush hour in Chicago, chances are we were headed home, and thus, that was the answer we provided. Next, he asked, "where is home?" And so we told him. So then he asked "where are you coming from?" So naturally, again, being rush hour, we answer simply "work." Of course, that is never enough, so he asked, "where is work located?" - which is downtown. The only way from downtown to our home is on the interstate - and then through what some can perceive as "the hood."
So finally, the officer takes my wife's license, only to return a few minutes later with words of caution of, "be careful driving through there."
What a nice guy. He was only concerned with our well-being that entire time. Never mind the fact he had absolutely no reason to actually pull us over, except for the fact we were driving through "the hood" while being white. It was racial profiling at its finest. We were white, therefore, we surely have "no business" being in "the hood," now do we? Of course, forget the fact that the interstate is exactly one block away from the street in question, and we obviously should never use that road when exiting the interstate to head home, right?
So it appears, we were being singled out for being the "white people" in a predominantly black neighborhood. Obviously, or so the officers seemed to think, the only reason we could be there was with criminal intent. And of course, being white, once they realized we had done nothing but drive down a public road, we should "be careful" when driving through "the hood" in broad daylight during rush hour, right?
Now, I do not necessarily feel we have been discriminated against. Yes, I know the reason we were pulled over, and it had nothing to do with traffic violations or impairments on our vehicle - it was only because we were white. Their rationale, I'm sure, was to see if we were in "the hood" to buy or sell drugs - despite the fact we had done nothing wrong, unless it is now a crime to drive on a public street. And so this raises the question, why were we singled out, and I think the reason is that, yes, racial profiling does very much exists.
We are white, and thus had "no business" in "the hood" other than that of criminal intent, but wait, no, it is a public road, so why were we pulled over for that? My wife and I got a kick out of being "profiled" because we have seen instances similar to this on the television program Cops, but what about those who truly are innocent? What about the black population that is singled out on a daily basis for doing absolutely nothing wrong?
I'll be honest with you, if the cops would have asked us to get out of the car, I would have become worried. I would have likely become defensive, and I would have wondered "what are they going to plant on us?" Of course, we are white, so we were left with a simple warning of "be careful driving through there," but what if my wife and I had been black? Would we have been handled much more harshly? Sadly, I cannot say, but if I was worried about being asked to step out of the car (and what they could possibly put on the scene to make us appear guilty) then I know I cannot imagine how a black individual must feel every single time they are pulled over - whether the reasoning for them being pulled over is justified or not. In our case, there was no justification made for pulling us over - not a single word as to why they felt the need to single us out.
Yet, we are white, and thus we had no "real" worries. Had the color of our skin been different, would I be here today able to blog about this incident? Unfortunately, I cannot say. If I was worried, I cannot imagine the feeling if I were a person of color, and that is truly unfair - and it goes a long way in defining our law enforcement agencies. Do they serve and protect, or are they too busy racially profiling individuals to serve or protect anyone effectively?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

cops shpuld realize, people are people no matter the color of their skin, EVERYONE has the right to drive on ANY street they choose without fear of being pulled over if they are indeed doing nothing wrong EXCEPT driving.