Chiming In on Police Stops

Reading Tressie McMillan Cottom on getting pulled over by police, I am reminded–when I stop feeling ill about what goes on today too often when African Americans are stopped by the police–of something that happened to me almost 40 years ago.

I was a skinny white kid with long hair and a beard, somewhat disreputable in looks. My experiences with police had not been positive–but I did not particularly fear them, especially when pulled over for a vehicle violation.

White people just don’t get killed that way. Didn’t then, don’t now.

I was driving a ’71 Datsun 1200, something like this, but in yellow:


[By Riley from Christchurch, New Zealand (1971 Datsun 1200) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons]

That should not look like a Mercedes Benz to anyone. However, the registration I had was for a 1965 Mercedes Benz 190 4-door sedan, white. The vehicle inspection sticker was from New Jersey, while the license plates (from the Mercedes) were from New York. Thanks to a recent robbery, I no longer had my wallet or driver’s license, just a stub from the cops that acted as a temporary license. On it was written, “Rhode Island license # = ???.”

Of course, I got pulled over.

Sighing, I gave the officer everything I had but didn’t say a word. He took it all back to his cruiser, sat for a few minutes, brought it all back to me and threw it in my lap.

“Get this straightened up by the end of the month.” He walked back to his car, got in and drove away. I suspect he felt it wasn’t worth the hassle to try to straighten out the mess I obviously was. He had determined, I am sure, that I was harmless so went on to more important things.

That’s what should have happened. That is what should happen today–to anyone. Maybe I should have been given a ticket or two or three as well, but that’s about it. There was no intimidation, no threat and no sense that the cop felt I might be a menace.

Missing a front license plate should never set up a confrontation leading to death. Never.


[“Chicago police officer on segway” by Brett Gustafson. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons –

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