04 December 14

My interactions with the police

Too long for the #crimingwhilewhite hashtag on Twitter.

I’m 43. I live in Chicago and went to high school and college in Columbus. I’m not a “bad” person and really haven’t committed any major crimes. But I’ve done some dumb stuff (like speeding, or turning the wrong way down a one-way street). And I can count the number of times the police have pulled me over or talked to me on the street on one hand. And the closest I’ve ever come to having a cop yell at me, was when I stopped to watch them arrest an African American man who had illegally run across the street, against a red light, to catch a bus. Something I’ve done hundreds? thousands? of times in my life. He tried explaining to them as they forced him to lay facedown on the sidewalk while he was handcuffed, that he was just trying to get to the daycare center because if he was late he had to pay a fine. (This was on Michigan Avenue in front of the Hancock Center in 1998 or 1999.) The cops laughed at him and said “If you do the crime, you gotta do the time.” I was confused, and appalled, and simply stared at the cops (probably open-mouthed in shock) when one of them pointed at me and said “Hey, Red! Get moving!”

I was pulled over while driving 9 or 10 years ago. And the cop just wanted to ask me what I thought about our Prius. Because his wife was thinking about getting one and he was talking to people who owned one to see what they thought.

I had gone fabric and pattern shopping with a friend that I was making a dress for 7 years ago. I had skipped dinner and was starving. I was driving north on Ashland when a cop pulled me over. I had no idea what I’d done so I told him (with a hand shaking from hunger) as I handed him my driver’s license and insurance card, that I didn’t think I’d blown a stop sign. He looked at me and said “There are no stop signs on this part of Ashland.” He paused and looked at me. “Are your hands shaking because you’re scared?” I shook my head and said, “No, I skipped dinner and am just really hungry, I think.” He handed back my cards and said, “There is a McDonald’s one block away. I need you to pull in there, eat a small hamburger at least, and sit for 20 minutes before getting back in your car. My wife has diabetes and blood sugar is nothing to take lightly.” I did as he said and thought “what a nice guy!”

I almost got pulled over two years ago while driving through the far south side with a friend while looking for a shop that sold a particular Chicago-sandwich (the mother-in-law). We were driving down a street, there were blue surveillance camera lights on every corner, it was almost dusk. We stopped at a red light. A cop car had been behind me and pulled up beside me. My friend and I were talking and laughing, the cop in the passenger seat was looking at me hard. I smiled at him and then picked up my WBEZ travel mug, took a sip from it and put it back in the cupholder. I turned back to look at the cop who was shaking his head, said something to the driver, and then smiled and nodded back at me. And it was in that moment that I realized he thought I might be “lost” and was going to offer help. Or he thought I might be looking to buy something illegal.

My interactions with the police are so very minimal. So very minimal.

These are practically my only interactions with the police for the past 10 years. I’ve been lucky. I’m also a white woman who “looks normal”. My visible appearance gives me privilege that I wouldn’t have if I were a 16-year-old black male in my neighborhood.


  1. Thank you for sharing. your honesty here shows so much compassion. somehow we have to figure this all out. in the meantime, have a great day.

    — Jade on Dec 4, 11:37 am

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