I was driving back home to Illinois last night and was driving on the interstate in northwest Indiana. Suddenly, I see blue and red flashing lights. I think “Seriously? I’m not speeding. Do I have a tale light out?”
It wasn’t the first time I’d ever been pulled over. At first, it didn’t strike me as odd.
Officer: Do you have any weapons or illegal drugs?
Officer: Where are you coming from?
Me: West Lafayette
Me: (louder) West Lafayette
Officer: Can I see your license?
I give him my license, he takes it back to his car. That seemed normal enough. But then he comes back and asks me to step out of my car…
That was a first. I’m thinking, “What in the world is going on? Am I like being punk’d?”
He went back to his car and then asked me to have a seat in his patrol car. As I walked up, I heard the barking of a dog which sounded like it could have taken out a grizzly bear.
As I'm sitting down, I'm stunned. I say, "Is there a problem officer?"
Officer: Do you think there's a problem?
Me: I don't think I was speeding.
Officer: What's the speed limit?
Me: It's 65 isn't it?
Having a huge, angry dog banging up against the cage, growling at you is a bit disconcerting.
Office: "You like dogs?"
It was like he was taunting me. He later questioned why I looked nervous. The reason was that I was nervous because I felt like some good ole boy sheriff was busting my chops for no good reason and I didn't know how much of an ordeal he was going to make the process for me.
As the officer was putting my information into his system, and looking at my license, he started asking questions:
Officer: Ever been arrested?
Me: No sir.
Officer: Have any warrants?
Me: No sir.
Officer: Ever have a ticket.
Officer: When was that?
Me: 4 or 5 years ago.
Officer: Do you have a valid driver's license?
Me: (thinking, "YES I HAVE A VALID DRIVER'S LICENSE. YOU'RE HOLDING IT!") Yes
Then he gave me a hard time about having an Ohio driver's license when I said I live in Illinois.
Officer: How long have you lived in Illinois?
Me: A year
Officer: You should have an Illinois license
Me: I'm in school
Officer: Where do you go?
Officer: What are you studying?
Me: I'm getting a Master of Divinity
Me: A Master of Divinity
(I'm thinking "Oh? You probably don't even know what that is. How's it feel to w
He then started repeating some of the same questions. As he's doing that, I hear the dispatcher telling him that I'm clear and don't have any warrants.
I notice that the slip he's writing says "Warning."
So I think, "Well he's going to give me a warning….so I just have to cooperate and I'll be on my way in no time."
After he finished writing, he told me to step out of the car and he'd give me back my license. After giving me back my license, the officer said "You're free to go….do you have any drugs or weapons in your car?"
Officer: Can I search your car?
Me: I'd rather get back on the road
Officer: It's a yes or no question
Me: What happens if I say no?
Officer: I can't answer that question.
Then he gave some bizarre explanation about how saying what he would do would be viewed as "intimidation." Unlike the rest of the completely legitimate interaction which we had had to that point.
Officer: It's completely up to you (translation: You better let me search your car or else I am going to punish you and make this entire process that much more difficult for you).
He again asked to take a look, throwing back that I had said I didnt' have anything illegal to hide (which is ridiculous. I feel like just because you say you don't have anything to hide does not imply "therefore, I don't care about my privacy or my rights as a law-abiding citizen who still hasn't been told what I did to justify you stopping me and to now go through my things arbitrarily).
The office said, It'll only take a minute?
I called him on that: It will take one minute?
So I let him search my car. I felt like it was an episode of Cops. He went through and found nothing. He eventually let me go.
I've always respected law enforcement. I feel that it makes the process go more smoothly and allows both parties to get on with their lives. If I had known this officer was going to waste my time, I would have been difficult. Maybe asked "What's the difference between you and an elementary school crossing guard?"
The crossing guard keeps people safe.
Indiana is one giant speed trap. It's like that on the state roads. ON I-65, there are constant "construction zones" where there's no construction, no orange barrels, no sign of any work being done whatsoever, but where you have to slow down. Perhaps I happened to be in one of the zones and didn't realize it. It was drizzling, I was not in the fast lane, and I was not driving at an excessive speed. I don't know how fast I was going because the officer never told me and didn't list my speed on the warning.
I certainly and not indicting everyone in law enforcement. But for an officer to stop and go out of his way to make things difficult, for no apparent reason, when I hadn't done anything wrong, when I'm a law-abiding citizen is wrong. I felt like he was just looking for a reason to bust me (which would not have happened because I knew I hadn't done anything wrong.)
As I drove away, I was stunned by what had just happened. As a white man, it did make me wonder what it is like for minorities in certain situations. I felt like I was treated like a criminal when I hadn't done anything wrong.