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FLASHING LIGHTS

“Be glad you made it home.”  That’s what a friend said to me after I told him I had just been on the wrong end of what I believed was an illegal police stop.  ”You’re lucky you were stopped in the daytime and that the officer wasn’t in a crappy mood.  Be glad you made it home.”

To an extent, he was telling me to just let it go, and the best I should hope for in this situation was to get home safely.  Truth is, I probably would have just let it go, however I had documented the stop with a series of tweets.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, the tweets caused a bit of stir and were even picked up by a number of press outlets.  Since it’s difficult to tell a full story 140 characters at a time, let me go back and take you through the entire experience:

The stop happened first thing Monday morning.  As a habit, I always drive a couple of miles under the speed limit on this particular road, and Monday morning was no different.  It’s a long, straight stretch where you can be tempted to speed and where you often see police cars roaming.  On this day, a police officer began following me closely.  I knew I had not been speeding, and at no point while he followed me did I switch lanes.  So, there was no possible traffic infraction, as far as I could tell.  The officer followed for about a mile before he turned on his flashing lights.  I pulled over and placed both hands out the car so the officer could see them.  A tall, white officer who appeared to be in his mid-30s approached my window and asked if I had insurance on the car.  Before I reached into my pocket for my driver’s license or in my glove compartment for my insurance card, I asked if it was alright to move my hands.  I handed both cards to him, and at this point asked why I was stopped.  The officer stated that he wanted to make sure I had insurance on the car.  He claims he needed to check because of my temporary license tag.  That tag is legal, up-to-date, and displays a valid, unique, printed ID number.  Those numbers are in database used by officers.  Ironically, Georgia law was changed last year to require those new ID numbers on temporary tags.  Why?  So officers don’t have to be suspicious of the driver.

The officer took my insurance info and ID back to his car for several minutes.  By this time, a second officer had arrived on the scene as backup.  A black female officer was in that car.  (She can be seen leaning into the first officer’s car in the photo I took and tweeted during the stop.)  When the first officer returned to my window, I asked him again why I was stopped and if they stop everyone to make sure they have insurance.  This time he hesitated and even stammered in his response.  But, his answer was the same: wanted to make sure I had insurance on the car.  We left it there, I was free to go, and we all went our separate ways, but not before I got the officer’s name.

The officer was not rude during our interaction and handled the whole situation matter-of-factly.  Also, at no point did the officer suggest I was guilty of a traffic violation.  By his own admission, I was doing nothing wrong. Rather, he stopped me to see if I was doing something wrong: driving without insurance.

Within hours, I had talked to several attorneys for clarity and had placed a call to the police department to get answers.

There are some questions I know I’ve left unanswered: why haven’t I publicly named the officer or the police department?  Why did my first tweet suggest race (“driving while black”) played a role?  What kind of car was I driving?  What does the law say about this kind of stop?  What did the police say when they returned my call?  And, what am I going to do now?

To be continued ….

Comments

Sharline Nabulime
Reply

TJ, thanks for clarifying this. I think you handled it with class and enormous grace. See, I get so worked up when stuff like this happens. My first thought is DWB- Driving While Black. Someone correct me if I’m wrong but what other conclusion is there to be made when a black man is stopped just to make sure he is isn’t doing something wrong. Aaahhh!!! We will never be past race in this country. NEVER! But back to this case, what I’d like to know is what the officer’s “suspicious stop” record is. How many stops he has made to make sure people are not breaking the law, which he seems to be unaware of, and what the race ratio of those stops is. Oh! but wait a minute, he can’t be unaware of the same law he’s enforcing right? I can’t wait for the conclusion of this. I know many people will tell you to let it go, be the bigger man and all that rubbish. But if we keep letting these things go, they will never go away. It’s just not right. I’m a little angry and rightly so because every time I’m tempted not to be angry at injustice, I remember the words of Henry Ward Beecher, ” A man that does not know how to be angry does not know how to be good. A man that does not know how to be shaken to his heart’s core with indignation over things evil is either a fungus or a wicked man.”

Paul Dirks
Reply

I can’t help but wonder if the fact you WEREN”T speeding is what drew attention. I know a number of sections of road where that’s case.

Evelyn
Reply

I am a transplant in this great country. My husband is white and I am of mixed race but look Caucasian. I live in the Deep South, and love it! On two separate occasions my husband was stopped at a randomly set-up checkpoint intersection and was asked for his Insurance papers. Unfortunately, even though we have them, they weren’t in his car. In Alabama, you’re ticketed if you do not have a current vehicle insurance. We took care of it ASAP and we didn’t have to pay any penalty.
Three years ago, I was in a busy intersection and so happened a police car with a police dog inside (to my left) was waiting for the light to change. When I started to drive I suddenly was alerted by a siren and lights coming from the same police car and was very surprised to see him pull me over. (Needless to say, I was so embarrassed, with people looking at me.) Then he said, politely, if there seems to be a problem. I said: “Oh, I was just so curious. I was admiring the dog in your car.” He let me go with no problem.. told me to be careful and have a good day. I’m gonna be honest with you, Mr. Holmes, Atlanta is a city not different from my city. But, my belief is that the police officers are out there to protect YOU and ME. We expect them to do their job in spite of our skin color. On the other hand, I do take in consideration how racial differences affect so many. I’ll have to be in your shoes to really know where you stand and so with the rest of the American people. I also have not forgotten, this is a nation of such a vast diverse communities and all of us are struggling — Black, Red, Yellow or White.

D W B
Reply

It is sad i have experienced something very similar where years ago i was ealking home.
The offiver shined a light on me and said hey you. Then whistled at me i then asked him why he did thst. I daid you whistle at dogs do i look like a dog to you. When i was asked where i was heading i asked him why. His answer was the restaurant i was ealking by had been robbed and i fit the description.

D W B
Reply

So very sad. So very disturbing the power they hold over us through fear.

chuck
Reply

I think that unless you had a temp/expired registration on the car, there is NO reason to pull you over to “check if you have insurance”. If you don’t have a current reg in PA you can’t have car inspected or registered, but unless it is expired or it is a “temp tag” taped to the back window it shouldn’t garner suspicion. TJ please let us know if it was a new car with temp reg?!

Dee
Reply

So what’s the rest of the story? I got to your blog from Max Brantley’s at the Arkansas Times.

Just dying of curiosity here…

Joanne
Reply

T.J.

Checking for insurance is a “new” one for me. I believe I heard you say on a TV segment yesterday that you believe because of so many negative comments you received that we cannot have an honest conversation about race.

I disagree with you to a certain extent. At age 70, we just uproooted our entire lives to move out of a community that was so racist that some comments had to be explained to me because I didn’t get it even though I thought I was pretty street smart. I began to keep a log because I didn’t think anyone would believe me.

I have to believe that there are more people like me/us who understand how ridiculous it is to be racist.

MeMe
Reply

I need my glasses. What’s the name of the hair salon across the street? LOL

yawn another rich black complaining
Reply

booo hooo, wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, if you don’t like it move to Liberia.

randallicious
Reply

your comment implies that this type of police harassment is to be expected & accepted in america. that’s ridiculous.

Wake Up People
Reply

If you don’t want to hear the truth about “racial profiling” you can go back to Europe, where ever your people originated from.. :)

Andrew
Reply

TJ, I’m so very sorry this has happened to you. I’ve been there believe me. You’ve experienced something that is so frustratingly frightening and humiliating yet you are handling it with dignity strenght and class. Proud of you.
Stay Strong.
Ephesians 6:10

Vernon J
Reply

After reading your post & seeing your twitter post.

Of everyone involved in the story I only see ONE person making this about race?

Why did you decide to do that?

The officer did his job that the taxpayers pay him to do.

meg
Reply

Not to sound obvious it may have to do with color but not the color of your skin. The color of your cars skin. Everyone knows Bright red means pull me over and a sports car at that. I have no clue on how Atlanta of all places you can say such a thing, really? They have the most friendly people I have ever met. I’m from NY and I love the Atlanta people and police. If you seem out of place down south new in neighborhood or car even an out of state accent being we all know each other you may of just been stopped to see who you are. Being you have temporary plates police officers do make mental notes of the coming and goings of people in area in which they drive. Just my opinion. They’re just doing there jobs at keeping us safe.

meg
Reply

The biggest way to tell is how he treated the female officer when she came was he respectful to her?

Jabez
Reply

You know the brothers at CNN are laughing right now huh? They say its about time they got ur light skinned azz … LOL!!!!

tim
Reply

TJ, thanks for bring this to light for the millions of black and brown men who have experienced this clear violation of your and others civil rights. As a trained federal police officer, I too have experienced this behavior and challenged it at every opportunity.
Now, here is my hope, you have a national voice more so then I and others I hope you keep this in

Mr.Miseducated
Reply

Whether you are a young black male or a more mature one, automatically your bulls eye is 2x’s the size of your caucasian counterparts. It’s not a surprise that you were pulled over sir, your car must of pissed the off the police officer. Frankly speaking your friend’s absolutely right, things could have gotten a lot worse, you were solely judged over your car and your color, it happens; but the sad thing about it is that we’ve accepted it, it’s the norm now. We don’t make noise….staying quiet is detrimental to our psyche, I mean what you did was a step in the right direction, informing the police department on traffic stop…we must continue to make noise…complacency is the enemy of progression…if we don’t talk they’ll think it’s alright..

Mr.Miseducated
Reply

Whether you are a young black male or a more mature one, automatically your bulls eye is 2x’s the size of your caucasian counterparts. It’s not a surprise that you were pulled over sir, your car must of pissed the off the police officer. Frankly speaking your friend’s absolutely right, things could have gotten a lot worse, you were solely judged over your car and your color, it happens; but the sad thing about it is that we’ve accepted it, it’s the norm now. We don’t make noise….staying quiet is detrimental to our psyche, I mean what you did was a step in the right direction, informing the police department on traffic stop…we must continue to make noise…complacency is the enemy of progression…if we don’t talk they’ll think it’s alright..

Sandra
Reply

Hopefully, TJ, you will keep the spotlight on this. Its good that this happened to a public TV news personality. This blog, for example, could serve as a repository to capture some of the 10s-of-1,000s of daily obscenities that African-americans have to put up with. This episode should inspire you and your news folks to increase exposure of such documentation of police-RACISM as a June, 2012–published study that “Police up to 28 times more likely to stop and search black people”
(. Such sunshine is desperately needed to counter the 100s of retorts that you likely received from white-supremacy embracers that usa police-RACISM is rampant, pandemic, and that this is not “normal” and that people must take assertive steps to STOP IT.

Sandra
Reply

It would be instructive to post at least a sampling of the twitter retorts that you received from bigots and white-supremacy embracers – for the enlightenment of those who insist on denying the MASSIVE, continuing institutional RACISM that supremely defines the usa, the symbolic election of a “Black” president notwithstanding.

c C
Reply

It is Cobb County. The salon name is A-Head A Time Hair Salon which is located at 6671 Mableton Parkway Southeast Mableton, GA 30126.

You had a temp tag and people are constantly canceling insurance on them once they buy a car. SOP for temporary tags. It has happened to me as well. This is a lesson to hurry up and get to the tag office so they have 1 less excuse for stopping you.

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Sandra
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A plethora of documentation of NYPD’s RACISM, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement Report (MXGM) on Extrajudicial Killings, the study of Milwaukee police RACISM, etc.; that virtually NOTHING about police RACIST behavior has changed since 1967 or since 1999; etc. — must be highlighted on TV news/commentary programs (TV remains the primary source of information for a huge proportion of the u.s. population). It is scandalous that – neither can any substantive recent nationwide studies done of this malignancy, nor has there been – with a scant amount of cursory coverage of Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” — any meaningful media coverage of either this outrageous fact of life for EVERY African-american, or of the absence of official assessments thereof. The findings of NYC and Milwaukee studies would surely be replicated in every city, town, county in the usa.

Sandra
Reply

No person of color is safe from this Illegal search and seizure, regardless of their obedience to the law, their age, the type of car they drive, or their station in life. In short, skin color has become evidence of the propensity to commit crime, and police use this “evidence” against minority drivers on the road all the time.

There are several internet references of how police RACISM is as intense and deadly as ever – as it was per the 1967 Kerner Report, the 1999 ACLU Report; and more – especially with police departments all over the u.s., using the phony “war against drugs” as a pretext since the Reagan administration. Skin color is as inevitable a proxy for criminality as ever:

– NYC (3 of many studies, references):
1) Some 700,000 stops-and-Frisks: Whites Are Almost Twice As Likely To Be Found With A Weapon: only 1.8 percent of blacks and Latinos frisked, 3.8 percent of whites frisked;” i.e., of the 10% of the stops of whites – 3.9%–3.8% led to recovery of guns; whereas, ONLY1.9% of the Stops-and-Frisks of the 90% of African-americans yielded guns, (NYCLU, Summer, 2012; )
2) “NYPD’s Stop and Frisk Practice: Unfair and Unjust” (july, 2012) – Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) study “Stop and Frisk – The Human Impact: The Stories Behind the Numbers, the Effects on our Communities” (;
3) “How Stop/Frisk in NYC is Unconstitutional and Targets Minorities” — The Examiner, May 24, 2012 re: NY lawsuit against RACIST NYPD;
4) Parkinson’s constitutional law: If New York cops can ignore the Fourth Amendment there, then other cops can — and soon will — ignore it anywhere—July 31, 2012 ();
5) NYPD Faces Numerous Stop And Frisk Lawsuits ();

- Explosive Report from MXGM (Malcolm X Grassroots Movement), Report on Extrajudicial Killings, of 110 Black Peoiple—(Over 6 months) Jan.-to-June, 2012: Every 40 hours Police in the US Kill a Black Person (On Hip Hop Politics web site) (;
– Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Journal Sentinel Watchdog Report–“Racial gap found in traffic Stops in Milwaukee”, by Ben Poston, Dec. 3, 2011 (); also posted on ThinkProgress web site
- A study by Rand research group Study, “The Effectiveness of Stop and Frisk in the United States,” by John Lamberth–Lamberth Consulting, showed a hit rate of 3.3% of the time when a Black citizen is stopped and frisked, versus a 6.4% when whites are stopped and frisked;

- Driving While Black: Racial Profiling On Our Nation’s Highways June 7, 1999 By David A. Harris – documents RACIST police tactics in New Jersey – including the lies of one Carl Williams, a Chief of Troopers, that, “mostly minorities” trafficked in marijuana and cocaine”, Oklahoma, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles overtly race-based guidelines to promote racist profiling; ………. ; a-n-d the racially biased DEA drug courier profile,

Jenn
Reply

When I moved to Georgia last year and registered my car, I was told that I didn’t need to carry any insurance card because Georgia had switched to an electronic system that automatically associated my insurance status with my license plate number.

If that’s true, he would have no cause to pull you over because he could just check in the system…

Kevin Hill
Reply

Same thing has happened to me in the last year. Its a terrible felling to be stopped by law enforcement in the US. Whenever i am abroad I never have that fearful feeling of what might happen. Many folks in America are dealing with their ancestors guilt and are in denial themselves. Guess we will have to let that old racism die out.

ddsharper
Reply

The thing is, there is no way around the racists saying that you are playing the race card. The nature of white supremacy is to hate you for calling it out, and to punish you for seeking justice, and for not tolerating it, There is the recent video of a black man being fondled by a Charlotte, NC cop. When he protested, they beat him to a pulp. He was blessed, for living through that. They hate you for shunning it, whenever and where ever you can, but that cannot ever be a reason to stop. King took the jailing, the hoses, and eventually the bullet. Therefore, that being the case, we must, and will, continue to speak up against white supremacy and racism; for they are shooting unarmed black men, boys, women and children and getting away with it, be they cops, who get excused by secret grand juries, or citizens hiding behind the unlawful gun laws, making the murder of black people legal. This is a 400 year old problem, and white supremacy is not going away. We must think of plausible strategies to protect our very lives. White masks while walking or driving; blond wigs; bullet proof armor from Alibaba and helmets that are bullet proof too. They are playing for keeps, and your friend was right. God was with you. May all black people walk in protection, with a wall of fire around them. This is a spiritual battle, coming straight from the pits of hell.

Jesse
Reply

Hello Mr. Holmes and all,
Unsurprisingly, the undertone of racism is alive and strategically executed through mild-mannered behavior patterns of those in a police or leadership role. I too experienced the EXACT issue one block from my home in Grant Park. The officer stopped me, waited for 10 minutes, but never got of his car and finally, then pulled beside me and stated; “Oh you have insurance, you can go.” I wrote down the car tag and number, phoned in the police department 4 times and never got a response. Being the only African American in my doctoral program, I deal with the same undertones (stated and unstated), prejudices and discriminatory practices of leadership. My worth remains more than each instance!

[...] There was no champagne.  No victory lap.  Not even a fist pump.  I didn’t feel vindication or think there was any reason to celebrate upon hearing the news: the Cobb County Police Department investigation concluded that the officer who pulled me over July 30 had no reason to do so. (See “Flashing Lights“) [...]

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