Years ago, I was pulled over by an officer while driving. It was after dark, and I was on a quiet street without other cars around. And something about the guy, though he was in a uniform, didn’t seem right.
My unease was apparent to him before too long, and he explained he was an airport police officer. Yes, my supposed turning infraction had been near the airport, but did he have jurisdiction outside airport property? I had no idea. I was scared.
After a verbal warning, he let me go—and though relieved to have come to no harm, I shook all the way home. Once there, I didn’t attempt to find out if this was a legitimate stop, to report this man in case others needed to be protected from him. I told myself he was a real cop, and maybe he was, though I still wonder if he had any right to stop me and have been unable to determine that on the internet in preparation for writing this post.
But after that scare, I promised myself that, if there was a next time, I would pull over only where there was more safety. I was never going to put myself in that position again. Soon, I forgot about it.
I have never been pulled over again. Maybe not only because I am a careful driver, but because I am a white woman. I don't know. And I don't know what it’s like to fear law enforcement because the color of my skin could make me more vulnerable to an officer prone to abusing or misusing his or her authority or, as a police officer, what it’s like to be vulnerable to criminal intent simply for doing my job.
That’s the problem. I don't know. But at least on some level, I should, or at least try. And I tell myself this every time tragic events like our country has experienced in the last week "pull" me over.
In my heart and mind, I know we are a diverse society whose people must take steps to listen, learn, and do what we can to address systemic problems, on all "sides," both as individuals and through trustworthy officials we elect. We have to dig into who and why and how, in any way available to us, and make sense of them so we can make a difference. Easier said than done, but mustn't it be done just the same? More than caring, more even than prayer?
I don't have answers, and I don't have promises. I may never understand all the opinions, all the hurts, all the theories. Conflict and trouble make me nervous, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that. I suspect I will fail more than I will succeed in any effort I make. I suspect I will think wrongly and act foolishly, when at all.
But I also know that, pulled over once again by events that horrify and sadden, by tragedies that affect real people of all walks of life, by reactions from some that speak hate, we can't afford to simply shake as we retreat into the safety of our own lives, tell ourselves the problems will resolve on their own, and forget.
We don't have to wonder if the threat is legitimate. We don't have to wonder if there will be a next time. We don't have to wonder what God thinks of our failings as neighbors in this world.
photo credit: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=48866&picture=police-lights