I got to thinking this morning and decided to catalogue all the times in the last, say, five or six years that I’ve interacted with law enforcement in some way.
- I’m driving to San Diego with my boyfriend on I-15 in very rural southern Utah. I get pulled over for doing 88 in an 80. While the highway patrolman is processing my plates, another patrolman pulls up behind him and they have some sort of conversation. When the first patrolman comes back and delivers my warning, I ask him to settle an argument as to whether Joe Walsh was originally a member of the Eagles. I’m released with a warning and nothing more happens.
- I’m driving with my dad in his truck through Steamboat Springs on US-40. There’s a big downhill and I end up going too fast directly into a speed trap where two or three highway patrolmen are waiting in a wide shoulder off the road. I get pulled over. My dad, looking for his insurance card, searches through his whole glove compartment and his whole center console with no luck. The trooper, seemingly bored of waiting, sends us on our way. I get a ticket and nothing more happens.
- It’s Christmas Day and I’m driving through the southeast corner of South Dakota, coming back from a visit to see my husband’s parents. I’m doing about 85 in an 80 zone and I’m literally the only car on the road. A highway patrolman coming the other direction sees me, makes a U-turn, and pulls me over. Probably because I have Colorado plates, he directs me to get out of my car and enter his vehicle while he runs my plates. There is a drug dog in the back of his vehicle; I suspect he’s trying to get the dog to alert to any smells I might have. I get a ticket and nothing more happens.
- I’m driving through southern Wyoming on the stretch of I-80 where the speed limit changes from 75 to 80 several times. I’m pretty sure I’m in an 80 zone. A highway patrolman is doing about 77 and I pass him. I was not in an 80 zone, and I’m therefore pulled over. He says something like, “you’ve got some nerve to pass a highway patrolman!” I explain my confusion and he says some various numbers of mile markers where the speed limit is 80. I get a warning and nothing more happens.
- I’m on a UTA Trax train on my way back from a soccer game with my husband. The transit policeman comes through to check fares. My Westminster ID card has a fare chip embedded in it, but for some reason it hasn’t been scanning consistently — it works fine on bus scanners but not reliably on Trax scanners. I hand it to the transit policeman anyway and when it doesn’t scan I explain the issue. Maybe I am slightly snide about this because it seems to me that the card itself should be enough evidence that I have a fare. The transit policeman asks me to visit the card office on Monday to get things sorted out. He moves on and nothing more happens.
- I’m driving with my dad to Moab, about 10 miles out of Price. It’s dark and there’s not much of anyone around. I get pulled over for speeding. My dad has some sort of conversation with the highway patrolman and mentions the name of a friend who recently retired. The highway patrolman knows this guy and there is a moment of levity. I get a ticket and nothing more happens.
- I’m at the Denver airport and I see the light rail train sitting around ready to depart. In my rush to the ticket machines, I see that RTD now has an app that I can use to purchase tickets, which will allow me to bypass the line for tickets and get on the train that seems to be just about to leave. I jump on the train and start downloading the app. Since my cellular internet connection isn’t particularly stable, it’s taking sort of a long time. The transit policeman comes by and asks to see my fare. I explain the situation and he waits for a bit to see if the app will finish downloading. He asks where I am going, and I say I’m going all the way to Union Station. He says he will come back and check in a bit. He never does, and nothing more happens.
These instances, and I’m sure several more like them that I haven’t immediately remembered, are reflective of my great deal of white privilege. I cannot say with any certainty that these interactions would have gone differently if my skin were a different color, but I also cannot say with any certainty that these interactions would have gone the same.
I’m a fairly law-abiding citizen. My worst vice is my lead foot, clearly. Even so, I’ve had seven interactions with law enforcement that I can quickly remember in just the last five or six years. In each of these, I was very probably protected from unpleasant escalations by the color of my skin and the societal status thus bestowed on me.
What if these seven different law enforcement officials were even slightly less predisposed to be nice to me? It wouldn’t take a big perturbation to the way events went to leave me with higher fines, a lengthy arrest record, or maybe even a history of being subjected to police violence.
Fellow white people, how has your skin very probably protected you from unpleasant escalations?