Last night I had my fifth police stop since I began counting 18 months ago.
I was on my way to the comfort and solace of an anti-racism event in Northampton, Mass. I live in South Eastern Vermont. The trip was about 40 minutes from my work place starting point to my destination. I was stopped by an officer of the Vermont State police about 15 minutes into my travels. I was driving my (new to me) RED Toyota prius, and the New Hampshire inspection sticker was to be replaced with a Vermont sticker within a certain number of days of purchasing the car.
I was outside that time line by a week.
Thank GOD. Because I forgot about that state inspection timeline, the nice officer was able to turn the entire encounter into a respectful warning to “get the matter taken care of…” as soon as possible.
As I debrief and dissect the interaction, I see that something has happened in policing up here that I wasn’t expecting. It feels like a “Fraternal Brothers will STAY STRONG” response to policing and to the violence of last week. I watched officer Diaz (yes– a BROWN MAN, just like Castillo’s murderer in Minnesota, and George Zimmerman in Florida) go from stony professional intimidator to confusion.
Because, I may have looked like a young, brown-skinned male, but I am not.
Not male. Just short of hair, and doing gardening work that day, and on my way to a community protest, so wearing my PURPLE Price t-Shirt with “The Artist formerly Known as PRINCE” insignia. Not young. Officer Diaz took my driver’s license and probably checked it a few times (he seemed to be gone a long time, but what do I know, I was in traumatized freak out mode), because I am in my 60th year and I don’t look that old.
Not young, but definitely intimidated. My hands shook throughout the entire “interview” with the police officer. I am imagining that Officer Diaz– being here in Vermont– doesn’t even stop that many people who look at all like me. So, I am wondering how he experienced his own response to the effects that his position of power had on me. On my physical body.
After it was all over, I felt like I was going to puke. That’s a first for me, in response to police stops. I used to feel annoyed. As they continued, I have progressed to aggravation. Then (after a Mass state police office yelled in my face– see youtube video, referenced at the end of this essay) I progressed to traumatized. Blue flashing lights have made my heart race and my hands sweat for the past few years.
Now it appears that the police make me sick to my stomach with disgust. I wish it was fear, but it’s not. Fear lives in my kidneys, and that is not what I felt. What I felt was disgust for “la policia” who stopped me “la abuelita y la curandera de los corazons”
I wish that I could have told him that. In Spanish. But my truth is, I was scared to death that he might not SPEAK SPANISH, and that would be “one toke over the line Sweet Jesus” for real. “Which side are you on?” seems to be a real question, as we continue to separate into two distinct American cultures of “us” and “them”.
But knowing that I would get less police attention if I had long flowing hair, and or carried a blonde wig in my car isn’t at all funny. It makes me realize that I don’t have the carefree privilege of experimentation with self expression on gender.
Just the increased risk of getting killed.