Code Red From Blue Light

I have agreed to work with a fellow wordsmith on projects outside of the “normal” working schedule. He has taken a sabbatical and is writing a book and is working on it nights to improve his productivity. I (in a spasm of OF’s disease) agreed to join him twice a week, so after watching my bi-weekly addiction of TV I travel the ten miles to his domicile. Normally the trip would take about twenty minutes and so I should arrive before the late local news broadcast ends the sports segment.

Not tonight. Within a kilometer of arrival I am blinded by brilliant blue and red flashing lights in my rear view mirror. Pulling over (after finding a safe location to avoid traffic congestion) I turn off my vehicle and get out the essential driving paperwork (driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance, all of which are required to drive legally in the state of Michigan), open my window, and await the arrival of the local police officer at my side. Officer Turner came up and (as is customary) shined his Mag-Light flashlight in my car and greeted me pleasantly, asking for the a fore described pieces of documentation. I presented the officer with the paperwork and he returned all (but the license) and asked if I was currently still living in [REDACTED], which was located in the opposite direction from my car’s facing. I indicated that “yes, I still live in [REDACTED].” I was then asked where I was heading this evening and my response of “to a friend’s house, Mr. [REDACTED] just a short distance up the road to study together” was met with a pleasant “uh huh”, follower by “do you know your car is quite loud? I could hear it with my windows up.”

I explained that a person from our church examined it and said there was a flange that attaches the catalytic converter to the exhaust system, and there is a gasket that is supposed to be present, but that is was currently missing from my vehicle. He nodded and said “please wait here in the car just a moment” while the officer went back to check the validity of my documents.

I think that’s what he did. He might have been checking to see if there was any warrants out for my arrest, recent criminal activity I might have been a part of, or checking the score of the late night basketball game. I could not tell anything as the lights from the patrol car were designed to make observing anything not directly in front of my car nearly impossible. Apparently my answers were satisfactory as he returned and delivered my license back with a suggestion that I get my car fixed as quickly as would be reasonably possible. We exchanged pleasantries and departed, each to our destinations.

Just over an hour has passed. I believe my heart rate and blood pressure have returned to near what they were before the incident. A confession: I am about as safe a driver as you will find. I have driven over two million miles in the last forty years, including log books for about a million while driving trucks for the propane company. I have had two moving violations over my lifetime, one for speeding (driving 35 in a 25 MPH zone) and failure to come to a complete stop at a stop sign. The last of these occurred in 1974. (Technically I had a third for driving without registration and proof of insurance also in 1974, but that ticket was canceled as I was the designated driver for a car full of wasted college students from out of state coming home from a concert…it’s a long story and will – perhaps – be posted at another time.) I was the victim of three accidents while driving truck, being hit (the other driver was at fault in each case) and have hit two deer (also not my fault) one causing a flat tire and the other taking out a fog light. Never any injuries, never any claims against insurance.  I drive below the posted speed limit most of the time, and at the limits when forced. Most of the time, I even drive 60 on the expressways where the speed limit is 70, always in the slow lane. I always wear my seat belt (even in parking lots…causing much humor when I forget and try to get out of the car). I even obey the yellow lines in parking lots that setup lanes for traffic flow and don’t cut through empty parking spaces.

But getting pulled over is STILL a traumatic experience. I know I am not speeding, I had just waited for a red traffic light to change before being pulled over, no violations (except noise), having done nothing wrong. Yet I was reliving my teenage years and the trama of being confronted by the law, and reacted now as I had then, with fear and trembling. I was probably old enough to have been the office’s grandfather (dad’ at the very least) but that didn’t matter. What I was feeling was not within my control. Officer Turner was in all ways a professional. He was courteous, pleasant and respectful. At no time did I have any grounds for the emotions I was experiencing based on our interaction (apart from the event itself).

I believe based on my life experience that my encounter tonight with the police is typical of the service provided in this community. I feel that I was not treated differently than any other person pulled over for the same event would have been treated. I have been told I am wrong.

I have been told of racial profiling, of being hassled by officials because a person was [REDACTED], [REDACTED], or even [REDACTED]. That I would not receive the same treatment because I am an [REDACTED] [REDACTED] person. I have been told that I am naive to hold my beliefs of equality within the law and that I am a [REDACTED]. (Truth is, as a teenager there was a rogue officer that DID target young drivers for special attention, officer [REDACTED]. It was well known that he would write tickets for a couple MPH over the posted limit and especially at the edge of town where the speed increased from 40 to 55 in a sweeping curve. Because even then I drove the width of the needle under the limit, I never ran afoul of his attention.)

I wonder how much of the difference in response others have had in their interactions with the police is a result of a difference in attitude. At all times I treated the officer with respect and courtesy, showing honor to the position and was not confrontational in voice, manner,  or action. I was raised to respect the law and to obey the rules in society, to the benefit of all. I hope the stories I have heard from others with differing results was flukes, outliers in the statistics of large numbers of interactions.

Because if the protectors of the flock are corrupt, all hope is lost…


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