After watching the live streamed video of the aftermath of the police shooting of Philander Castile [above], a man who was legally carrying a loaded gun, I had to pause and reflect. A similar situation happened to me, only I wasn’t killed.
Last January, I was driving through the bitter cold across Idaho, making my way back to my previous home in California. I’d been out to Wyoming to visit my husband for my birthday. I was speeding, which is a feat in and of itself; my Jeep doesn’t handle all that well at high speeds.
I had cruise control on; I often forget that the lift and oversized tires affect my speed. As I rocked out to my 80’s jams while my kids napped in the back seat, I noticed the flashing lights behind me as I approached the Nevada border.
I pulled over, still unaware that I was speeding, and didn’t think I was going all the fast, as the cop was about to confirm. I honestly thought I had a tail light out or there was something wrong with the rear of my Jeep.
Either way, the cop walked to the passenger side, so I had to lean over to roll down my window (Jeeps with removable doors don’t have automatic windows.) I put my hands back on the steering wheel.
He immediately told me I was speeding and asked to see my driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance. Before taking my hands off the steering wheel, I disclosed that I had a CCW permit from the state of California. I was carrying a gun on my right hip under my pink sweater.
Much like the guy in the video, I assumed disclosing the fact that I have this permit would be a good thing. To get one, your record has to be squeaky clean.
This cop wasn’t concerned. He never reached for his gun. He simply said “That’s fine. Let me see all your licenses.” He carried them back to his cruiser and returned a few minutes later with a simple warning. “Please slow down. Six miles over the speed limit isn’t enough for me to write you a ticket.” I said I appreciated it and I was off, back on my way home to California.
The point is, now, after knowing this happened to a fellow permit holder, a supposedly law-abiding citizen, I’ll be a little more concerned if I see flashing lights in my rear view. If it could happen to him in front of his child, what about the rest of us who carry all the time?
Did the fact that I’m white make a difference in how the officer treated me? I don’t know. I can’t know. And neither can anyone else in a similar situation — until there’s solid evidence suggesting it did.
I know that there’s a history of racism in America. I know that DWB (Driving While Black) was a thing. It may still be, depending on geography. And the Philander Castile shooting may have been racially charged, if not motivated.
But the police officer involved, like any other armed American, should be considered innocent until proven guilty. Once that principle’s gone, the whole system falls apart. And then none of us are safe, in our cars or out.