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FLASHING LIGHTS (cont’d)

Wait.  I’m the racist?  So says the guy on twitter yesterday who called me the n-word, a “monkey”, a “thug,” and suggested I kill myself.

Many more had similar reactions and used language that was just as disturbing.  There were plenty of others I’ve heard from on social media and blogs in the past 24-48 hours who didn’t use such colorful language but were in agreement that I’m racist and/or ignorant for daring to suggest that race has anything to do with any officer’s decision to pull someone over, to stop and frisk someone, or how the officer treats a citizen after making contact.  Of course, there is an abundance of stories, cases, and studies that also suggests racial profiling is real.  At the same time, people on the other side will point to data, or the lack thereof, to fit their narrative that anyone alleging racial profiling is wrong.

There are intelligent and worthwhile conversations to have on the national and local level about racial profiling.  However, I fear I didn’t help that conversation along one bit.

I initially tweeted the phrase “driving while black” after I had been pulled over Monday morning.  If I had told my full account of what was happening without ever using that phrase, many people would have undoubtedly drawn that conclusion and used the phrase themselves.  But, since it came from me, the phrase unfortunately became the headline, the focus, and the lighting rod in media accounts and the dialogue that followed.  In a split second, with that phrase, passions were immediately inflamed and people immediately took sides, as is often the case when matters of race come up in this country.

A big part of the reason I left CNN to start “Don’t Sleep” was to lead thoughtful, civilized, and respectful discussion on a variety of difficult topics.  But my use of those three words (driving while black) set off a discourse that, in large part, has been uncivilized and disrespectful.  That was the exact opposite of my intent, and it’s incredibly disappointing.

My hope would have been that another young man would read about my experience and could have taken from it: 1) how to respectfully deal with police during a stop, 2) how to get through the moment even when you think you’re being wronged, and 3) perhaps how to fight back when the moment has passed.  However, any lesson or message has been muddled.  Despite my personal feelings about why I was stopped, voicing that opinion publicly set off the wrong conversation.  Though, I understand why many African Americans think it was appropriate and necessary for me to use the phrase thereby using my voice and platform to highlight the issue.

I never had any intention of naming the officer involved or even the police department.  I don’t want to make him or the department a media focus or the focus of attacks.  Through an attorney, I have sent formal letters of complaint to the appropriate authorities, and I look forward to a dialogue with the department and perhaps even the officer who stopped me.

We’ll never know what’s in an officer’s heart when he stops someone unless he tells us.  I doubt we’ll start hearing officers confess.  But, as long as there’s no admission of bias, there’s no way to end it.  And, of course, every time a white officer stops a black driver, it’s not a case of racial profiling.  But, the root of many African Americans’ suspicion of police is worthy of our examination as well.

Many have suggested I didn’t give the officer the benefit of the doubt.  Actually, I did.  Admittedly, that benefit of the doubt faded when I learned his reason for stopping me.  It’s clear that the officer didn’t give me the benefit of the doubt.  Whether that was based on my race is something we may never know.  But, it is possible that race had absolutely nothing to do with the stop.  It’s also possible that it did.  In these instances, it’s almost impossible to bridge the gap between what we can prove and what we believe.

Once again, I fear I let a so-called teachable moment pass.  Here, the only thing we’ve learned is that we still have a long way to go in this country.

To be continued …

Comments

kenneth
Reply

TJ I personally didn’t see anything wrong with your comments and it should start a conversation about the race issues that are still lingering in our society today. I am a 23 yr old African American male and so far I have only experienced one incident where I felt I was being racially profiled in a mall. I always get on the defense when people talk about the police because my mom is a police officer but she has informed me of countless stories of how the police department is still consumed with racists. This is an issue that we really need to address as a nation because we all have so much more in common and we are missing out on learning about each other because we are only looking at skin.

Vernon J
Reply

Kenneth, what part of Africa are you from?

My parents were born in Michigan & Illinois.

I’m a American.

BTL
Reply

Great way to derail the conversation. Some of us in the Diaspora call ourselves African American, some of us call ourselves Black Americans and some of us just call ourselves Americans. Your commentary not only derails the original conversation, but it also erases Kenneth’s right to choose his own identity. This is the adult table, if you want to act like a child, then pack-up and move on.

Sean
Reply

TJ, I sincerely believe that what you have felt at the moment was true. Those who called you bad were rotten. Racism is still widely spread in this world though some like to deny the fact. Since I’m Asian living in Asia, I don’t usually get any discrimination owing to my skin color but I truly sorry for what happened to you and support you. Keep up the good work, TJ.

Sylvia
Reply

It is unfortunate that we still haven’t gotten to a place in this society where we can talk about racial issues without things going astray. Personally, I don’t ever think racism will be a thing of the past. Racism is fueled by human beings, and human beings are flawed.That said, I’d hope that we could at least get to a stage where such vitriolic language would be tempered, but I guess that follows human beings being flawed. Of course, racism has more to do with having flaws, in part, it has to do with ignoring the experiences of others. Indeed, it blocks those it affects with the ability to have any sort of compassion, or for that matter, desire to engage in fruitful conversation about racism. It’s true that not every incident of a person of color being pulled over by the police is fueled by racism, but to say that this is never the impetus is disingenuous at best.

Every teachable moment needs a teachable audience. I fear that there are individuals who have closed themselves off to any sort of instruction, individuals like the one that hurled those names at you via Twitter. But for every one of those individuals, there is one or more that can benefit from your experience. Try not to get discouraged and keep sharing!

Vasha
Reply

Do not allow a few who do not have the same color skin as you do to question what you felt at that moment. Driving While Black is real, and it happens to women just as well as it happens to men. I look forward to your new show.

Jim
Reply

Sad to say it, but we still live in a very racist society. For years I carpooled with my neighbors. They were all black and I am white. After several bogus traffic stops we decided to try having me drive on a regular basis. I know that everyone reading this will be amazed that we were never stopped when I was driving.

I don’t know how to fix it, but after 50 years of watching the racism I know it won’t change soon. If ever.

Nancy
Reply

I have to agree with you about why you were stopped. It’s truly sad that our country can’t move passed the color issue. I feel that after President Obama was elected, something I thought was wonderful and showed we were finally moving forward, things have gotten much worst.I’m sorry that this still goes on inn this co ntry

Andrew
Reply

TJ, u was not speeding. You did not commit any traffic violations. Why were u stopped? I would challenge your detractors to intellegently anwser this question in light of the 4th amendment. Thank you for turning on the lights regarding this matter. Evil can only flourish in darkness.

Bryan
Reply

One thing I’ve learned about being a minority in this country is that you can NEVER EVER EVER get another non-minority to understand what it’s like to be one in this country. Of course there are outliers, but the majority of people just don’t understand. Some just can’t put themselves in other’s shoes, and some simply don’t want to and don’t care to. When you try to explain what it’s like to be a victim of racial profiling, they’ll either shoot you down because they think it’s a cop-out, or they’ll try to give you a reason why it’s happened to them too. For instance, I told my co-workers about a time when I “fit the profile” of someone who had stolen a bucket hat. Long story short, I was handcuffed for 30 minutes before they let me go. I ran into a friend who also “fit the description.’ The worst part, I”m 6’3″ and my friend is 5’6”. After I explained my story, a white woman started to tell a story of her son getting “profiled” in Baltimore all the time. Really? Baltimore??? Don’t get me wrong, there are all kinds of rough folks in B’more, but c’mon man! Rather than say “I believe you” or “that’s a damn shame,” she told me a story of her own so as to put us on the same level to diminish what I know was the truth.

I swear, ever since Congressman Joe Wilson yelled out “you lie” at the State of the Union, people are just getting more and more bold. Especially with social media, everyone has a voice and a platform – even the stupid people.

ralph
Reply

TJ, you’ve been fine. When Men In Black II can make the same joke in a very popular movie (“actually, it came with a black dude but he kept getting pulled over” — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCRFJFLfBVc&feature=player_detailpage#t=118s) “driving while black” is a common place truth for whites, too. Only someone who doesn’t want to imagine such things occur would consider your comment outside the pale.

This white guy — whew, northern Seattle suburbs? now THAT’S white! — understood that you had only thought this after the police officer had politely informed you that you were pulled over simply in order to find something wrong. That, frankly, is wrong — and the fact that he refused to give you any other reason would **naturally** lead to you imagine some reasons yourself.

It would, frankly, be interesting to hear — even privately — the black officer’s understanding of what she was participating in. The only other interpretation is that there WAS a reason that they simply refused to tell you — but THAT smacks of a police state, which is also in the “bad’ category.

You’re good to go. You’ve been polite, civilized, and haven’t used rough language at all, IMHO. But it is a teachable moment, for everyone.

JC
Reply

TJ I think you are being too hard on yourself. I learned a lot from your experience. One is to hold your hands out of the window as the police approach. Two is to ask them if you can use them to retrieve your papers. Three is it’s okay to ask why you were stopped. Four use an attorney to file a complaint. Thanks for sharing.

Mr.Miseducated
Reply

Backlash come’s with the territory sir, see to them you should just forget about American racist history. It also seems that we’re allowed to point fingers at ourselves but once at them, then we have acquired the title of sworn enemy….the truth of the matter is that African Americans and cops all over the U.S. have unresolved tension….bluntly speaking he didn’t think you deserved your car because of your color, his intention whether voluntarily or involuntarily was to penalize you for his belief…are you a racist ??? no…are you real ???….maybe…but your intention was good as far as the blog post…just keep it moving ..and allow them to know their faults…it’s like you’re pointing a mirror in their direction and they don’t like what they see…so using hurtful words is the best that they can do..just keep it going.. You have your platform use it wisely.. because it comes and it goes….

JI
Reply

Well, I know that racism has existed and still exist in American society for many years now. Although I’m only 28 years old, I first experienced the Klu Klux Klan or blatant racism in South Carolina when I was in elementary school; a distant relative,not that older than I was, ran for his life to my family’s front yard. We (i.e. mother, sister, grandmother, etc.) were outside doing yard work when we saw him running towards us as four white males pursued him in their car yelling “We’re going to lynch or kill you nigger” with weapons in hand. He passed out as he reached the edge of our yard; I watched in amazement because I had only witnessed such behavior on television. I went to school and had close friends who were white, so I was completely baffled to realize that such hatred actually existed in my reality.

About four years ago when President Obama was vying for the Democratic Presidential nomination, I had my first “driving while black” experience. My friends and I (all educators) used to host Sunday dinners at one of our homes while we watched the presidential debates. This particular Sunday, we were in my old stomping grounds, which is a middle-upper class suburban neighbor in Palm Beach County. I just left my friend’s development to head home when out of pitch darkness, I saw the red and blue lights flicker behind me. I thought to myself “What”? So, I rolled down my window slightly as I turned down my music (gospel) and waited for the officer to come to the driver’s window. When he approached me, I said good night officer. He asked me where had I come from. I informed him that I just came from having Sunday dinner and watching the presidential bebate (H. Clinton vs. B. Obama) from a friend’s house (white female). He replied “O’really?” I said yes; we’re educators. Immediately he asked me whose car was I driving, and I replied, “Mine, would you like to see the registration?” He smirked at me then stated that my car smelled like marijuana. I looked the officer in his face and began to laugh. Yeah, it probably didn’t help the situation, but I did (people who are “high” have a tendency to laugh at things). No, I was not high and had (have) never smoked marijuana before in my life. I asked the officer did he know who I was. I told him that he couldn’t have known who I was to have the audacity to accuse me of doing such a thing. I demonstrated for him that I’m the person who covers his mid to lower face with a shirt or coat to cover his nose, but in this case my sweater, when I pass people that are smoking. Understand this, I was driving a fairly brand new Toyota Camry (Really, a Toyota Camry?); I was a Black male with locs dressed in a Ralph Lauren fitted polo with a coordinated sweater wrapped around my shoulders. (Dred) locs have a negative stereotypical connotation or perception for those who have a limited understanding of the natural hair style. I began to laugh more because mentally I thought to myself am I really going through this, so I said to the officer that he wasn’t smelling marijuana in my car because 1) I had asthma, allergies, hay fever, etc. 2) I don’t like to be around smokers and 3) no one had ever and will never smoke in my car, but what he was smelling was that new car scent (that was still prevalent in my car). So, I asked him did he feel the need to search my car because I was okay with that as long as he didn’t plant anything (i.e. marijuana) in my car. Then, he told me that he wanted me to move my car off the main road to a street that was across the highway, which was even darker than where we currently were. I quickly let him know that my name wasn’t Rodney (King) and that we were fine where we were. I couldn’t help but to think this officer would have tried to club me or beat me as if I was Rodney King had I move my car to the street off the main road. Or would have done me like Terrence Howard in the movie Crash. I was intrigued, but frighten at the same time, by the realization that despite how fair skinned I was, despite how well mannered or spoken and dressed I conducted and presented myself, I had been officially racially profiled. He asked me if I could step out of my vehicle, could I sit on the curb, and to call a friend because my license was suspended and I needed to call someone to come drive me home. He also wanted to search my car. So, the officer searched my vehicle, and while I was sitting on the curb trying to call someone to drive me home, the officer got into his vehicle and drove off. He simply took off. If my license was suspended and you told me that I couldn’t drive myself home, wouldn’t you wait to make sure that I followed your directions about not driving myself home?

Is it real? I can believe “driving while Black (male)” is real. Although people might dismiss the fact, racism still exist in America. I think Blacks or African Americans are more realistic or open about the issue while our counter parts aren’t. I have had this conversation with my (white) friends; Blacks have had to learn how to succeed and try to be comfortable in predominantly White professions for decades.

Paul Sunstone
Reply

T.J., I confess an admiration for the way you’ve handled this mess from the start. Not only what you did during the traffic stop, but what you have done since, strike me as level-headed, courageous, and meaningful.

What happened to you disturbs me on a number of levels. Beyond that, I am utterly disgusted by the people who have been calling you racist and other vile terms, and who have suggested that you kill yourself. Their words speak volumes about them.

I hope your experiences in this matter serve to further the cause against racism.

Tim
Reply

I, too, fear a teachable moment may have passed (for you, and others). First let me say that the idiots who have called you names are not ones who will be “taught” about anything. I am sure this is not the first set of trolls you have encountered since you are a public figure. You say that it is “clear” that the police did not give you the benefit of the doubt, but you admit that you don’t know what is in their heart. That sounds very much like the President in his comments about the Cambridge Police in the incident with Henry Gates. What about your responsibility in this dialogue? You said that in a split second, passions were immediately inflamed. Wasn’t it your match that set the blaze? You used the phrase DWB. When you squeeze an orange, orange juice comes out. When you squeeze people, what comes out was inside them from the start. You were squeezed and “DWB” came out. We don’t know if that police department has a quota of insurance tickets they want to give out, pulled you over because you have a nice car, a crappy one – there could be a host of reasons. I do agree that there seems to be no good reason for your experience (I would be upset too). But, while race MAY have been on the policeman’s mind, you admit that it WAS on yours. I hope your complaint shows the police they should not pull people over without cause. And I hope you get some peace out of this.

pw
Reply

Unfortunately we live in a country where racism is alive and well and sometimes only minimally hidden. We fully understood your frustration and anger at being reminded yet again, that we are not seen as equal members of this country. That in cities and towns across this country the color of our skin is the only thing needed to incite bigotry, hatred and discrimination. The fact that your tweets have garned as much attention as they have is a plus because unlike most of us, YOU have a platform to make your voice heard. Shout my brother, SHOUT.

DY
Reply

TJ,

I agree with the other comments. Do not beat yourself up. You did not do anything wrong. I am an African American female that was stopped while driving black which is less common than black males. I was on my way to a meeting, not speeding. I was driving a mid size SUV. I was pulled over because the officer ran my plates for no reason that showed my title was not registered in the state I reside. He gave me a warning but I asked why did you run my plates at all. He couldn’t answer. I got his name and badge number. I called the Secretary of State office to ask if that was a problem since I purchased my car from another state. I explained my car was registered in Michigan and I had Michigan plates that were not expired. The secretary of state could not understand why I was stopped and there was not anything I needed to do. I filed a formal complaint with the Michigan state police. The supervising officer did look into it and I was told the officer should not have randomly ran my plates and I should not be stopped. He told me the officer was reprimanded and apologized. I share this because if it happens stay cool but file a complaint. We don’t have to accept this treatment from anybody. God bless and be safe.

Debbie

Junior Soultrane
Reply

TJ,
You were right to bring this to light. What happen to you is something that happens all the time all over the USA. When I lived in the Atlanta area I had the same thing happen to me. My reason for being stopped was that my car had Texas plates that didn’t show up in there systems. Now my problem was that I had passed the cop sitting on the side of the road ( how did he see plates from there)? We have freedom, they just keep putting laws out there to limit that freedom. Keep doing what you doing TJ, I know the show is just what we need.

cheryl young
Reply

So, TJ, as I read your willingness to open dialogue with the police department to address this issue I am asking you consider another issue that impacts far too many Americans. You have the power to bring light to this subject and I have the documentation to prove its existence. Please read below:
When the gates close behind our fathers, sons, brothers and to be certain mothers, they become locked in a system that does not respect the value of human life, human dignity. They become numbers. Daniel Young, 78091-004, my husband; Guy Alessi 23972-007 my father; and Richard Alessi 31535-004, my uncle, were three very human, very loved members of my family all of whom died while under the “care” of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. As a result of losing 3 of the most important men in my life to the BOP negligence I became an intake volunteer with FedCURE to help others dealing with BOP atrocities. What I have learned is unconscionable!! It is hard to believe that in this day and age and in this country a system as barbaric as what I am about to describe (and can document) is occurring right in front of us. What is most concerning is that the United States government is powerful enough to hide it.

Please let me begin by stating that I want nothing from this other than that this story be told “ that you let the world know what is going on in our federal prisons. The crimes I speak of are committed by our own government against its own people. I have specific and concrete evidence of the circumstances under which these horrors occur and are covered up by those involved. My wish is that if it comes from you, then no more will die at the hands of their own government. If the disclosure of this human tragedy results in some change of the law, some reform in the policies that release non-violent offenders, those laws that purport to release the terminally ill and perhaps seeks to offer options and community programs for the aged population, this is a bonus. If you see fit to use your resources or your power to assist in any of these endeavors, then my efforts have achieved a goal beyond their original hope.

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