I live in an affluent, suburban neighborhood. I’m a model citizen. I drive a luxury vehicle and my clothing reflects my executive level professional position. I am a Christian woman. I am Black. Remember that.
Last year, I ran out of gas. I saw the reminder, but was busy trying to be my own version of Super Woman. I thought I had time. I thought I could make it home. My car shut down while I was on a conference call, at a red light, at a busy intersection. I was just across the street (albeit a four lane busy intersection) from the gas station.
I called Mercedes roadside assistance because they give you just enough gas to make it to the gas station. I started to get out of the car and go across the street to try to get gas. A man screamed to “get my f*cking car out of the way”. It spooked me so I got back in and decided to wait it out with my flashers on. Police arrived. I was THRILLED. Help is here!
The police officer (a woman) came to the driver’s side of my car.
She asked, “Ma’am. Why are you stopped in the middle of traffic?” (note: I was in the lane next to the right hand turn lane with ample space for folks to pass me on either side. It was inconvenient to traffic, but not in the middle of traffic.)
I responded, “Thank God you’re here. I ran out of gas! I’m so embarrassed. Can you help me?? The gas station is right there, but I’m a little afraid to leave my car. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to. I don’t know what to do.”
She said (clearly exasperated and annoyed), “Did you call police? You can’t just block traffic like this.”
I said, “No. I called my dealer car service. They are on the way with gas, but with traffic, I figured I could beat them to it. I just need help. Can you help me get over there and get gas?”
She said, “Ma’am. It’s against the law for you to leave your car and you’re breaking the law by blocking traffic. I’m calling a tow truck. If your fancy car service arrives before my tow, I’ll cite you a warning and you can be on your way. If not, I’ll have you towed. You can figure out the rest.”
I stopped talking and looked at her. Here I am. A woman. Clearly shaken. Looking for a solution. Asking for help. It hit me in that moment that she didn’t see any of that. She saw a Black woman. Someone who had the nerve to disrupt her day with something stupid like running out of gas. Someone she could care less about “protecting and serving”. She saw a nuisance. Something that fed her prejudice. My husband even called to help (because he’s law enforcement and they usually have a code of helping each other in these scenarios). Nothing worked. She wanted to hurt me. Wanted to show me she was in power and I was … nothing.
The tow truck arrived. Just as they were about to link to my car, the Mercedes rep pulls up.
I said, “Thank God! You’re here!”
I look over to the policewoman and the tow truck guys to say, “Ok. There’s no need to tow me. He’s here. He can give me enough gas to make it across the street.”
The policewoman said, “I don’t care that he’s here. I told you if he arrived before my tow, I’d let you off the hook. But he didn’t. STEP! BACK! NOW!”
Yes, she screamed at me. Like … I’d offended her. Like … we’ve known each other in the past and I did something to her that required retaliation.
I became ENRAGED. And I thought to myself … today might be the day that I die.
It’s the first time something like that has ever occurred to me.
I turned to her and said, “I don’t have time for this foolishness. I have to pick up my children. The gas station is RIGHT. ACROSS. THE. STREET. You want to give me a citation. Fine. I’ll see you in court. But these people are NOT towing my car. Sir, please put gas in it.
She places her hand on her gun and starts to shout.
She said, “You’re going to do what I said do! I don’t give a f*ck about your kids! I don’t give a f*ck about you, ignorant b*tch. You think you can talk to me like this?!”
The Mercedes rep stepped in and began to explain to her why she should calm down. The tow guy walked over to me and said, “She wants me to tow you. How about you pay me a dollar and I’ll tow you across the street to the gas station. Sound fair?” His associate handed me his dirty handkerchief. It hadn’t even registered to me that I was crying.
I began to sob. I’d never felt so stripped of my dignity. Ever. In life. I’d never felt so worthless. So helpless.
She hears the tow guys and shouts, “FINE. Here’s your f*cking license. Do whatever you want.”
She throws my license into oncoming traffic, hops into her car and speeds away.
Thankfully, the men there (both the tow guys and the Mercedes rep) helped to retrieve my license. They got me across the street and even offered to be a witness if I wanted to file a complaint. I declined. I just wanted to get home.
Each time a black person is wrongfully shot and killed in this country, I think of this moment. I wasn’t breaking the law. I simply needed help … while black. And it almost got me killed.
I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t even know how to help this madness stop. All I know is …
I foolishly thought that picking the affluent neighborhood, getting the executive level job and wearing the prescribed “I’m not a criminal” uniform would somehow reduce the likelihood of this happening to me. To my children. But it didn’t. Because I’m black. Because we’re black.
We must find a way to stop this. I don’t have the answer, but it first begins with planting the seed. So, I’m planting it. Petitioning that you and I figure out how we can begin to create a culture of accountability. We must vote. We must speak out. We must serve and protect. We must be the change we want to see. Together.
And in the still of the night when hope wanes, we pray. Pray and believe. Know that He is there.
Love you. Mean it.