Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Cotton Fields

This wasn't the worst thing in the world, but it was interrupted a nice moment and started my weekend off the wrong way:

My girlfriend and I were on our way to Atlanta, Georgia, this weekend, when nature called. I exited from I-75 North and made a quick visit to a nearby convenience store. When we were both several ounces lighter, we jumped back in the truck and headed toward the interstate. For several seconds, though, I considered turning around and taking pictures of the cotton field that was a few dozen yards behind us.

I finally decided that I'd go back to take a picture or two because 1) some of my fellow bloggers may not have ever seen one and 2) the available angles looked like they'd make for some appealing photos.

I turned around, then parked along the opposite side of the road. Climbing up on my vehicle, I took a few awkward shots with my mobile phone (sadly, over-estimating its specifications) and then climbed back in my truck. During this time, a white couple was parked on the dirt road right next to the field. Before I was done, they backed out and drove off. I don't know why they were there and didn't really care.

Once traffic was clear, I pulled onto that same dirt road, took another picture, then prepared to back out onto the street and proceed along our merry way.

Before I could do that, a car passed by. Before that car finished passing, a couple of sheriff patrol cars passed by us....

Verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry slowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwly.

The first one passed us, completely. I was relieved. The second one, however, slowed from his 10 mph pace to a complete stop, directly behind us, in the right-hand lane of the street. He was a white male with a buzz cut and a jovial expression that put me at-ease a little.

"How you folks doin'?"

"D'you know anybody out heah?"
"Nope. Just takin' pictures."

"Pictures? Of what, the cotton field?"

"With what?"
"My phone."

"Okay. Y'got your license on you?"
"Yes," I answered, as I reached for my phone, then my wallet. "May I ask why?"

"Well, you're on private property," just like the white couple he didn't who sat there for five minutes, as opposed to the five seconds I planned to be there before he and "Ponch" showed up.
"You've got no tag." The dealer "tag" is still on.
"Your windshield's cracked," which he couldn't have seen from behind, "and your door panel's off." The panel's off because I was going to get some work done on the door while I was in Atlanta, so I didn't think it was worthwhile to reinstall it.

"Now, I'm not tryin' to say you guys did anything." Mm-hmm.

On some level, this seemed almost practical, but on another, it was straight-up insulting.

Like chele mentioned in a recent post, we've all got choices to make, every day - choices that lead to consequences we may or may not want to deal with. In this case, my annoyance and skepticism inspired me to take this officer to-task for the inconsistencies in his statements (like, "How could I be on private property AND parked in the middle of the street, at the same time?" OR "If parking 'in the middle of the street' is so bad, why did you leave your cruiser right there?").
On the other hand, the realist and the pragmatist in me suggested I keep my mouth shut before I made the situation worse.

In the end, I chose to respect both sides by asking a single question (re: why he wanted to see my license) and leaving it at that.

Ultimately, my valid license, flawless diction ( :p ), and, I'm convinced, female companion convinced him that maybe THIS particular Black man WAS capable of owning an Expedition and turning around on private property, without shooting up the town and burning down their homes.

We wished each other a good day and parted company.

I should mention that at no time did this officer call us out of our names, offer a sarcastic tone, or ask me to prove I owned the vehicle. It may be fair to say that his tone was cordial.

What pissed me off, though, (more and more as the hours passed) was the fact that he stopped and suspected US, but not the white couple before us. At first, I thought he probably didn't know I was Black, but I remembered that I took some of those pictures from atop my vehicle. He had every opportunity to make note of my skin color and get his buddy to accompany him... just to make sure we weren't going to cause any trouble in Mayberry.

We weren't causing any harm, we weren't on "private property" for long, and we were obviously in the reverse gear when the officers pulled up.

Sure, he wasn't wearing a white hood, but too many people make the mistake of assuming that racism or racial insensitivity is defined purely and solely by the most heinous acts of violence and oppression. There are more subtle ways that racial bias rears its ugly head.

I believe this was one of them.


chele said...

Ponch Funny line.

It's the more subtle forms of racism that bug ... even scare me. I prefer the in your face variety, that way we're both very clear on where we stand.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Mary Mac's I haven't been there in quite some time. Good food, glad you got a free meal...I can eat cold food for free. LOL

What!? You were in Atlanta and didn't call? :-)

Anonymous said...

Oops! I commented that to the wrong post.

I am sure that the fact that you complied with his requests & didn't ask a lot of questions defensively, helped the situation, and kept his actions civil. And kept him from calling you out of your name etc.

West said...

chele, Malcolm X said something similar about outright vs subtle forms of racism.

rou, you made me laugh out-loud talkin' about eatin' cold food fo' free!

(By the way, the forecast said 39 de-doggone-grees was the low. Thankfully, we didn't experience that... or the rotten traffic that was post-poned due to the B.E.T. event that took place in ATL, this weekend.)

Leroy said...

How do you know the cops saw the white people there? Couldn't they have just come in between the time they white people left, and you were still there?

West said...

The cops didn't just come out of nowhere. They were in a lot a stone's throw from my location.

It's completely possible that the cops never saw those people, but those cops never had a good reason for eyeballing me to death, blocking me in, or stopping me, in the first place.

In other words, they haven't earned that much benefit-of-the-doubt.