A True Crime Story: Driving While Black

RyanCar
Ryan leans against his Honda as he poses for photo after being stopped & searched by police.

I drove over to Fort Smith one morning in late June to attend the funeral of my uncle.  My son also drove over to Fort Smith that same day to spend some time with his Grandmother.

Ryan left OKC about an hour behind me.

Later, my wife sent a disturbing text that I happened to notice during a pit stop at the Love’s Travel Stop just west of the Arkansas River bridge on I-40.

Ryan had been pulled over by the police.

Great, I thought.  He’ll probably have a big speeding ticket to pay.

Turns out, it was a far different stop.

Ryan is African-American and was driving a Honda Accord with Texas plates.  The cop told him he had been pulled over because he “crossed the line.”

That was only the beginning.

After he was pulled over,  the policeman asked him to sit in the back of the police cruiser.  There were two policemen in the car, and a second police car with two more officers parked nearby.

The officers began asking Ryan a lot of questions.  Where had he been? What had he been doing?  Where was he planning to go and why?

Ryan answered their questions. He’s a student at the University of North Texas. He had been at his parents home in Edmond. He was going to visit his Grandmother in Fort Smith.

The cop asked permission to search his car. Ryan said ‘no.’ The officer then said they were going to get the drug dog out of the other police car and sniff his car.

Ryan said he told the policeman that the dog would have a hit on his car because “that’s what you want.”

Of course, the dog showed a “hit,” so the officers proceeded to search every inch of the vehicle. They found nothing.

Finally, the policeman came back and told Ryan he could go. No apology, but no ticket, either. The officer did say he appreciated Ryan’s patience.

I ask Ryan what agency  the officers were from, but he did not know. I assume it was a drug interdiction team from the Sheriff’s Office.

From my perspective, this was a clear case of racial profiling. Young African-American male driver. Texas tags. Driving alone on I-40 headed east.

“That’s just the way it is,” Ryan told me. “Every time I’ve been pulled over the cop asks ‘do you have drugs? Do you have guns?'”

As a 60-something white man, I’ve never been asked by a police officer if I had drugs.  Or guns.

As my wife told me later, if it had been her or me driving that vehicle we would have never been pulled over. Certainly our car would not have been searched.

I’m thankful that Ryan was released unharmed to go on his way. But it also brings home the hazards in this country of driving while Black.

It is real.

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jimstafford

I'm an Oklahoma City-based freelance writer with interests in Oklahoma startup community, Apple Inc, OKC Thunder & Texas Rangers.

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