I Got Pulled Over By the Cops and Absolutely Nothing Happened: A Study in Privilege, by Sigrid Ellis
On my way to work this morning I was driving on the highway and saw the flashing lights pop up behind me. I pulled over to the shoulder, turned off the podcast I was listening to, pulled out my wallet and driver’s license, rolled down my window, and waited.
Officer walks up to the passenger-side window. This makes sense, as it is 4:30 in the morning, it’s dark, and we’re on the highway. I lean over and roll down my (manually-operated) window.
He asks to see my license, I hand it over. He asks to see my proof of insurance, I lean over and open the glove box and dig around for the piece of paper, then hand it over. The officer asks where I am coming from (home) and where I am going (work) and how long I’ve worked there (seventeen years.) What time does work start, he asks me. Five a.m., I reply. That’s pretty early, he says. It really is, I agree with complete sincerity.
The officer excuses himself, walks back to his car, and runs my license.
I sit in my car, which is still running, and wait.
He comes back, hands me my license. You were going a bit fast back there, he says. But I’m just warning you. Keep an eye on it, he says. I thank him, and we part ways.
I am a white 40+-year-old cis-woman. I speak broadcast-standard American English with an educated cadence. I spent the stop thinking how differently this could have, would have, gone were I a young black man.
To roll down my passenger window, I had to lean across the interior of my vehicle towards the officer. Was this aggression?
To get my proof of insurance out, I had to open the glove box. Was I going for a weapon?
I left my car running. Was I attempting to flee the scene?
I had a mug of tea in the car. Was this an open alcohol container? Was this probable cause for a search?
I have privilege. This is the stew we all swim in.
I was stopped by the police, I was in violation of the law, and absolutely nothing happened to me.
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