The recent confrontations (a number of them deadly) between African-Americans and police officers that have spawned protests and rioting across the country got me thinking about what I did when I got stopped by the Collin County Sherriff’s Department. It was back in April 2000 for what should have been a ticket for coasting past a four-way stop sign in McKinney.
I have never questioned the traffic tickets police officers issued to me after being pulled over for speeding or not wearing a seatbelt.
My attitude has always been, I did it. I am guilty. Give me the ticket and I’ll decide how to take care of it. It only takes police officers maybe 10 or 15 minutes at most to write you up after they are finished checking your license on the computer in their car.
That’s how long it should have taken the sheriff’s officer to give me a ticket that Sunday afternoon 15 years ago. My attitude towards this particular area in McKinney is, if I don’t see any cars at any of the other three stop signs, then I am just going to slow down and then continue going. That’s a bad attitude. But if there are no cars at the intersection, why should I stop? What should have been a standard citation for missing a stop sign in McKinney became a full-length search of my car.
The officer who asked me if it was OK he search my car said it looked like I was trying to get away from them when they saw me coast past the stop sign. I felt like asking, “If that was the case, why did I stop the minute you turned on the lights?”
I didn’t bring up the question though. I just kept my mouth shut.
The sheriff said it was my right to say no to the search and I would have said no except two scenarios suddenly popped in my head. One was, I could say no and then they’d assume something was up which means they’d just get another car to come by with a search warrant while I wait.
The other assumption was, although I knew damn well there was nothing illegal in my car, would the officer plant anything to make an arrest stick in his opinion?
I pondered these two scenarios for a second and then told the officer to go ahead with the search. He found nothing, but I could tell he was looking for something since I saw him eyeing the inspection and registration stickers on the windshield making sure they were current.
Instead, I stood there outside my car and waited for his partner to get verification on my license, which obviously came back saying I had no warrants (which for the record, I currently have none and have never had any). Yet, his partner still asked if I had any outstanding warrants as he gave my license back.
I told him no. He responded saying for me not to go through stop signs in front of the police because it’s not very smart. I agree.
That’s not the point here. The point is the Collin County Sheriff’s Department asking if they can search my vehicle was their way of saying I was hiding something, which wasn’t the case.
When this happened, I sat there wondering if my rights were violated in some way, but things could have gotten worse if I had smarted off to them and not cooperated.
Therein lies the difference between what I did and what so many African-Americans who died at the hands of police officers didn’t do, whether the search was legal or not.
I am not denying there are bad police officers out there, but I am also convinced there are three times more good officers than bad. The officers who purposefully wrongfully shot innocent civilians during a stop (I am not just talking about African-Americans here) and committing murder do get prosecuted and do get prison time. Every police department in this country be it a small town or a metropolitan city like Dallas has its internal problems.
Police officers don’t out of their way targeting individuals based on the color of their skin in hopes of them getting to use deadly excessive force and maybe starting a war between society and cops. There’s always a reason why you are pulled over by law enforcement.
The lesson that ought to be learned is if you want to go home alive or prevent your arrest following a traffic stop, you might want to avoid any confrontation with the local police.