A Lesson In Racism

We had been doing the R.I.D.E. (Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere) spot check for about an hour with one more hour to go. It was a slow night, around 1:00 am in the middle of the week. As officers, we have been trained to look for signs of intoxication and in the manners in which people try of cover it up. So on a R.I.D.E. spot check,

The Shape of Policing
The Shape of Policing. This image was taken from the Toronto Police website, the competitive candidate section.

we ask each driver if they have had anything to drink that evening. And as they answer, we listen to their speech, look at their eyes, smell their breathe and look for any signs of alcohol consumption. If we receive a one word answer and require more time to make a determination, we may ask another question, a more open ended question that requires they answer with full sentences. After that, they are usually thanked and sent on their way. It is meant to be an interaction lasting a minute or less. On this night, there were three officers and a Sergeant on this detail.

Donna is a very large girl. That’s putting it mildly. She usually gets a lot of attention as a 6’7” female with a hefty frame to match. I call her ‘The Monolith’ because her size is so imposing that everything falls into shadow around her. While on this R.I.D.E. spot check, Donna does not bend over to speak to people. It is too far for her and hurts her back. Instead, she crouches next to the driver’s door and speaks face to face with the driver. I was standing behind her a few feet away and could see clearly over her shoulder at the driver of the vehicle she was investigating. The driver was slouched over, leaning forward in his seat. His head was positioned looking downward, not towards her, avoiding any and all eye contact. When he answered her question, he looked away from her, as if trying not to breathe on her. These are all signs of classic impairment and someone trying to avoid detection. Even at my distance, the driver appeared to possibly be under the influence of something. As Donna questioned him further, I could hear his voice rising, starting to yell. There was a weird rhythm, a hesitation, and slowness to his voice. He was the solo occupant in the car and he was hostile, argumentative and confrontational. “Please look at me Sir” I heard Donna demand. I knew where this was going. I had seen it maybe a hundred times before. He was going to be asked to pull over for further investigation of intoxication. A line of cars was now forming behind them so I went to help, while signaling to Ralph that he should go and assist Donna.

As I continued with the R.I.D.E. spot check, I could hear the male yelling and screaming. He was calling us racist and said this was only happening because he was black. I could hear Donna calmly explaining to him that it was his behavior, which appeared very suspicious, evasive, and consistent with a person who is intoxicated. He would have none of that. It was because we were all racist. And yes, all officers on this traffic stop were white. My Sergeant and myself at this point, had not even had any interaction with him. But we were all racist. I guess that was based on the colour of OUR skin. He continued to be confrontational and argumentative. He was asked for his driver’s license and he initially refused. Then when asked for his vehicle documents, he refused. And on it went, for almost twenty minutes. The entire time he was accusing all of us of doing this investigation based solely on the colour of his skin. He could not see, nor would he take any accountability, that it was his actions that landed him in this situation.

It became clear through this investigation that the driver actually had a physical disability which contributed to the appearance that he might be intoxicated at a R.I.D.E. spot check. For example, he had a speech impediment in which his pitch, speed and cadence changed a lot, much like when someone is impaired. This trait, along with his distaste of police whereby he would not even look at Donna or in her direction, contributed to the suspicious behaviour that appeared like someone driving under the influence of something. It was for these reasons that he was investigated. After a full investigation, it was determined he was not under the influence of anything and he was sent on his way. However, before leaving  he made sure to record each of our names and badge numbers for the future complaint he planned to file. As he pulled his car away, he screeched his tires calling us numerous names and yelling about racist cops. I shook my head, thinking, who knows, this might end up in the news, or on YouTube or as an example tomorrow with Black Lives Matter. And it would be believed. Because there would be no voice for the police, explaining our side and our experience and explaining our actions in the same arena. And that’s because the newspapers are only interested in bastardizing the police. We would be subjected to very harsh criticism. The truth would be inconsequential and remain buried.

I attended the next car in line. A young black male, about twenty years old, wearing a black hoodie pulled over a black baseball cap. He was driving an older vehicle, a rust bucket really. I asked him if he’d had any alcohol this evening. He quickly answered “No.” As is customary for me when I receive one word answers, I asked “Where are you coming from?” and he answered fully. “I was out on a date with my girl downtown and I just dropped her off and I’m heading home now.” His speech was good, his eyes appeared clear and I could not smell any alcohol. I thanked him and sent him on his way. But before attending to the next car, I noticed all of us looking at this driver as he pulled away. We were all contemplating the irony of the last situation and this one. I sarcastically said “Yes, we are so racist” to my co-workers, which broke the tension and we all chucked for a minute and went back to work at the R.I.D.E. spot check.

And so this is the environment I often have to try and work within. A society that comprises of more and more people who do not take personal accountability for their own actions and circumstances. We all see it everyday, sometimes with our children, or a family member , a co-worker or a friend. They are the person who drives you crazy as they point the finger at everyone else, without looking at themselves and being honest. It’s much like Jimmy-the-kid, who when confronted by the parent “Jimmy, why did you crayon on the wall?” and Jimmy says “It wasn’t me. I was Derek, ” who is their invisible friend. It’s called deflection. And as a cop, I meet lots of people who deflect. “She made me hit her. She just wouldn’t shut up.” We can recognize it so easily when it is coming from a child or when it comes to abusive relationships. But it becomes convoluted and unchallenged when it comes to race. That’s because the worst thing a person can be called right now is racist and it instills fear. Sometimes, I think we have a society of a lot of ‘Jimmy’s’ who just grew taller as they aged. Well this is the environment I work within every day. Wondering what snippet of YouTube might be misrepresented to further a cause. I do not stop, pull over or investigate people because of their race. I do it because I am gay. Yes I said that. BECAUSE I AM GAY! Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? It doesn’t make sense does it? Well neither do the accusations I do it because I’m racist. No I do it because I am a cop and that’s what I’m supposed to do.

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