Driving While Black

Photo credit: Pope County Tribune

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

If anyone ever doubted there was a need for society to address the problem of police officers stopping Black drivers, a recent event in the town of Windsor should dispel those doubts.

The incident is reported in today’s on-line Virginian-Pilot. Like incidents at Virginia institutions of higher education that have been recently discussed on this blog, the narrative is based on side’s story. In this case, the description comes from a lawsuit filed in federal court by the Black driver. Unlike those other incidents, however, there is graphic police body camera footage that backs up the Black driver’s story.

For those who do not have access to the Virginian-Pilot with the accompanying body cam footage, I will summarize the incident:

A Black Army lieutenant, in uniform, was driving on Rt. 460 through Windsor one night last December. (Windsor is a town of about 2,700 in Isle of Wight County in Southside Virginia.)  When a police cruiser signaled him to pull over, he slowed down, flipped on his turn signal, and looked for a well-lit place to pull over. Less than a mile away was a service station, which he drove to, pulled into, and stopped. Meanwhile, the police officer radioed that he was attempting to pull over a vehicle with no rear license plate and tinted windows. He reported that the driver was “eluding police” and he considered it a “high-risk traffic stop.”( He later acknowledged in his written report that the vehicle was traveling at a low rate of speed. Also, the body cam footage showed a cardboard temporary license plate posted in the rear window, which is typical for newly-purchased vehicles.)

When the driver pulled into the service station area and stopped, he was confronted with two white police officers with weapons drawn and pointed at him, yelling at him to put his hands out of the car.  They also yelled at him to get out of the car.

At this point, the driver told the officers he was afraid to get out of the car and asked what was going on. When he asked the officers to call a police supervisor, one of the officers pepper sprayed him multiple times while he was still sitting in the car with his seat belt fastened.

He finally got out of the car and again asked for a supervisor. One officer responded with “knee-strikes” to his legs, knocking him to the ground. He was then struck multiple times, then handcuffed and interrogated. A medic was finally called and the police chief also arrived at the scene.

The lieutenant says that the officers told him that if he “would chill and let this go,” they would release him without charges. But, if he fought it, he would be charged with obstructing justice, eluding police, and assaulting a law-enforcement officer and would have “to go to court and notify his command.” In the end, the officers did not file charges because, they said, they did not want to ruin his military career for “poor judgment.”

My Soapbox

After watching that police cam footage, I know that, if had been me in that car with two officers pointing guns at me and yelling at me to get my hands out of the car and yelling to get out of the car, I would have been convinced that these guys just want an excuse to shoot me.

Can anyone honestly say that a white driver would have been treated this way?