“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 ….