“I Understand What I Don’t Understand”

| June 5th, 2020

I call it The Beige Beast.

It is a beat-up 2005 Chevy Cavalier that belonged to my dead grandfather. It’s got a front right bumper hanging on for dear life. It waived goodbye to 200,000 miles on the Merritt Parkway, bringing me back from a round of golf in Danbury, Connecticut in March. It passes inspection because sometimes miracles do happen and horns do blow.

Earlier this year, before the world put the emergency break on, my theatre company was running an after school program in an Asbury Park, NJ middle school. My uncle lives a few towns over so I decided to swing by there for lunch before heading to A.P. I found myself on a back road and the thing hadn’t been paved since about 1971. When The Beige Beast hits a pot hole, it feels like a crash. The impact is jarring. I know the next pothole hit could be the kill shot so I was swerving to avoid them and that involved a shitload of swerving.

Usually I’d notice if a cop was behind me.

This time I didn’t.

Lights. Siren. Pulled over.

He scuttled up to my passenger side.

The window is broken on that side so I had to open the door to speak to him. It had to look shady.

I gave him an expired insurance card but explained that I could show him the Geico app to prove the insurance wasn’t expired, just the card. That had to SOUND shady. He took my word for it and never asked to see the app.

He asked why I was swerving and I explained my pot hole issue. He joked, “I thought you might be looking at your phone.” I said I wasn’t and was only like five minutes from my destination.

And that was it.

“Keep her straight the rest of the way,” he said. He then walked back to his cruiser and we went about our days. I told my uncle the story and I never thought about it again until the last few days.

Because I’m white.

Because I’m white, that officer didn’t have his hand on his pistol when I leaned across the front seats to open the passenger door.

Because I’m white, that officer took my word for it that my insurance wasn’t expired.

Because I’m white, that officer didn’t ask me to walk the yellow line to prove booze wasn’t the reason for my swerving. (That wouldn’t have been inappropriate on his part.)

Because I’m white, I never – at any moment during the interaction – felt afraid. And that says everything about the tensions of this pivotal moment in the history of our country. For me, being pulled over by a cop is an inconvenience.  The worst outcome is I’m out a few bucks. For black and brown people, being pulled over by a cop is a potential nightmare. The best outcome is they’re out a few bucks. The worst outcome is they’re fucking dead. Because they look different from me.

Next week and for the many weeks to come, this space will be dedicated to the 2020 Chicago Bears. But since the team themselves took a break to acknowledge the moment, I thought I would too. I don’t have anything profound to add to the conversation. I understand what I don’t understand. But I pledge to dedicate more of my life learning about the issues facing black and brown men and women and pledge to never cast another vote without considering those issues. Is that enough? I don’t know. But it’s what I got.

Just as we cannot ignore this moment, we cannot ignore this opportunity.

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