Traffic tickets. What did I do wrong? Wanting to immediately defend myself. Not knowing how to act, what to do. I don’t have a weapon; I’m a female driving a car!
I’ve had four encounters with police and none of them felt comfortable. Why? Well it’s the police. Okay. The police make me nervous. But some of you reading this might have fathers, husbands, sisters, brothers who work in law enforcement. So, what’s my point?
Actually, it was made this morning in a column in the Chicago Tribune. Columnist Eric Zorn writes about his encounters with police and how we can improve things. But first let me tell you about mine.
FIRST: It happened on a circular drive in a shopping center in Matteson, Illinois. A policeman pulled me over. I guessed I was going 30 in a 20-mile zone. I immediately dialed my husband on my cell phone; he actually answered. Now the policeman is at my window, yelling at me to get off the phone. So, I did. FIRST ENCOUNTER, not going well.
He told me I had gone 30 in a 20. There was nothing more to say. He wrote out a ticket. I went on my way.
SECOND: I am now an RN, working at Mercy Hospital in Chicago. Around noon, before my shift, I drive to pick up my son at grade school. I pull up in my car along the schoolyard fence. Just as I do, a child FALLS of the swing that is at a great height. I leap from my car and go into the school yard to help this child. He is shaken, bruised, but he is okay. While I am caring for him, a policeman pulls up behind me and starts writing me a ticket. WHY?
He’s ticking me for leaving my car running….I am about 10 feet from my car, we are on a leafy street with no traffic. I go out and argue with him. It makes absolutely no difference that I was leaping out of my car to help a child. None at all. It would have been nice to just get a warning. But I don’t appeal the ticket. I’m too damn busy.
THIRD: In this same neighborhood, we have moved, remodeled a very old home from the 1920’s. New roof, windows, doors, newly poured patio. New gardens, not to mention every room in the house has new plumbing and we have a new boiler etc etc. BUT…
While purchasing wallpaper in the community, giving my address….the woman waiting behind me says right out: “Oh, you’re the house with the bush that grows over the sidewalk.” I look at her. Turn back, pay, leave the store. Thinking, what a b…..
We contact the village to pay for new sidewalk squares (it’s a corner house) so that people don’t trip while they are walking near our house.
But then it happens, the same policeman who ticketed me for helping a child, pulls up, rings my bell, writes me a ticket for the bush growing over the sidewalk. AND HE ISN’T EVEN NICE ABOUT IT, when I show him how we have improved THIS house, even redone the public sidewalk.
FOURTH: This last is the least of all three, yet in some ways it might have turned out to be the worst. It all depends on the person you are dealing with.
Here’s why, and remember, no one has ever told me the rules. I am driving through the streets of Des Moines, on my way to pick up my son from his music lesson. I notice a police car is following me. Well, it’s not me, I tell myself. But when I pull into the parking lot, he does too, it’s me. I pull into a parking space, he pulls into the space behind me. So what do I do?
I do the exact wrong thing that I don’t know is the exact wrong thing, I get out of my car and walk back to him. His window is down—“You need to get back in your car.” I don’t think he yelled, but he’s angry. And it’s me, Beth Havey, who hasn’t done anything wrong. “Officer, what have I done?”
He gives me the same answer, get back in your car. I do. I wait. About five minutes later, he walks up to my open window.
“Your registration is out of date. You don’t have your sticker on your plate.”
“I’m so sorry,” I tell him, “I must have left the notice in a pile of mail. I will take care of this immediately.”
“And he, nods, walks away, so that after I get my son, I drive oh so carefully until I can get home and hide my car. I won’t drive it again until I have my NEW STICKER.
LOOKING BACK and FORWARD
I’ve been driving for YEARS. For my 3-11 shift at Mercy Hospital in the city of Chicago. Back and forth from Des Moines to Chicago, alone. Many times to Iowa City, alone. Across country to California, with my husband. I’ve navigated the 405, the busiest road in California. BUT I HAVE NEVER BEEN TOLD THE RULES. I learned them through negative experience, and by reading the paper, watching video of others, watching police deal with Black men, Black women, young kids, etc etc. Don’t get out of the car…Get out of the car!!
NO ONE TOLD ME THE RULES when I first got my license. And not when I renewed. The tests in California are always about SIGNS and more SIGNS. Same in Illinois.
ERIC ZORN writes that a new measure in Illinois, co-sponsored by three African American lawmakers, requires that the RULES OF THE ROAD manual include instructions on “appropriate interaction with law enforcement officers” during a traffic stop. They claim that these instructions are in the booklet. I don’t remember being tested on that point. Signs, all the tests are about signs.
CONCLUSION: the following should be front and center:
- If you can’t quickly pull over, activate your hazard lights to signal your intent to comply.
- Don’t rummage for your license, etc don’t make a quick phone call about anything. These movements can alarm the officer, especially with the prevalence of guns in society. Instead, turn on your dome light if it’s night and put your hands on the wheel at 10 and 2.
- When the officer asks for documents, tell this person where they are, move slowly.
- Don’t argue with the officer. That never goes well. If you get a ticket, sign it, avoid arrest. Save your argument for the judge.
Zorn then says: But we as drivers should also know our rights. Such as:
- The right not to answer questions about where you’re going, where you live or your immigration status as well as the right not to respond to accusations or insinuations of wrongdoing.
- The right to deny consent to a search of your person or of your vehicle (though officers may conduct such a search anyway, if they claim probable cause.) This happened to a person I dearly love and he was arrested.
- The right to learn the officer’s name and badge number.
- The right to refuse to take a blood, urine or breath test if you are suspected of impaired driving (though such a refusal is almost certain to result in a one-year license suspension.)
My final thoughts are like Eric Zorn’s: courtesy and respect during a traffic stops can be and should be a two-way street. Lawmakers ought to put that in their guidelines as well.
Also, I’ve been damn lucky! I was in a bad accident years ago. I made a bad turn. My daughters were injured. They are fine now, but it took me months to forgive myself. But that’s another blog post. https://boomerhighway.org/reclaiming-motherhood/
Please share your interactions with the police and how you handled them.
THANKS to ERIC ZORN Chicago Tribune
photo I Stock