The first time my teenaged Mexican-American high school boyfriend recounted to me the tale of how and why he and his half-black best friend were pulled out of his car at gunpoint by the police during a routine traffic stop, I didn’t believe him. By the second, third and fourth times, I not only started to believe him, I was getting angry.
Groups of teenagers are never up to any good. They’re annoying and loud and have a horrible mob mentality with an insatiable need to prove how cool they are. I’m half Texan (of Spanish and Mexican ancestry) and half mixed western European with a bit of Native American mixed in. I have a very common Spanish last name. But I look very white. Like “Why does a white girl like you have a Mexican last name?” white. I have naturally dark hair, near black and light brown eyes. I speak no Spanish aside from a few basic like sit down, shut up and eat.
My high school boyfriend regularly got pulled over and removed from his car at gun point. Seriously. He wasn’t a gang member, had a full-time job while attending high school, he wasn’t a drug dealer, didn’t have a criminal record. In our smallish Chicago suburban town, gangs were a serious issue. We had a huge police presence. I understand they were doing a job. There was one day where he was pulled over 3 times in a 2 hour period. I was in the car during one of these “traffic stops”. The officer who pulled us over came up to the driver side window and asked “Do you have any guns, needles, knives or dead bodies?” My younger sister was in the backseat and started to laugh and she said “Yeah, I’m sitting on a dead body right now.” under her breath. I shushed her because it was cold and I didn’t want to have to lay on the asphalt for an hour or more while the police searched the car. Which is exactly what had happened to him during another traffic stop a few months before. The officer made my boyfriend open the trunk. He was meticulous regarding his car and purposely kept very little in it because he was forever being pulled over and searched. It was night time and it was cold and that cop made him pull out his spare tire so he could poke around in the pristine trunk. He found nothing because there was nothing. And again, no ticket was issued.
I remember once I was driving in a friend’s car. He is Mexican-American as well. Another Mexican-American friend was in the front seat, me and two other girl friends were in the back. One girl was half-Mexican like me but looked very ethnic, the other was blonde. We drove to a McDonald’s for a snack and then drove around trying to find something to do. We weren’t doing anything wrong. Just five bored kids on a Friday night in a small town. We were pulled over 3 times in 45 minutes. One officer pulled us over for window tint, no ticket. Another said we did an illegal turn, we didn’t, no ticket. The third pulled us over for curfew. It was 9:45pm and curfew was 11:30pm on weekends. This third officer tried to give us $75 curfew infraction tickets.
I had kept my big mouth shut during the other two traffic stops. I had learned from my minority friends that you need to shut up and say “Yes, sir.” You can’t argue nor can you move quickly. It went beyond respect. I have the utmost respect for law enforcement. My friends taught me that if you didn’t want to get pulled over, you shouldn’t wear a baseball cap, or drive one mile over the speed limit or have more than two people in the car at a time. (I remember going to a big arcade with a group of 10 people and taking four separate cars to prevent getting pulled over.) Many of my friends had incorrect info regarding or didn’t know their constitutional rights regarding being pulled over, search procedures, etc.
The officer said “Did you know it’s curfew?” The driver said “Sir, it’s only 9:45, curfew is 11:30.” The officer played dumb and said “Really? Oh I guess it is.” as he continued to shine a flashlight at us. The driver said “We’ve been pulled over 3 times already tonight.” He then ordered us all out of the car. He pat down the two males and then came over and started to ask me to assume the position. I said “No. You have no right to search me. For one, I’m a minor. For another, you know you need to call a female officer.” He was taken aback. He looked at me and said “Someone thinks she knows her rights.” I retorted “I don’t think, I know. You had no right to pull us over. We did not break any traffic laws, nor were we in violation of any curfew ordinances. We are all minors. I live 3 blocks from here and unless you are detaining me for a crime, I think I’ll go get my parents.” He looked at me, said nothing for a few seconds and then told us to get back in the car. We all decided to get dropped off at home. We didn’t want to get pulled over a fourth time.
Why am I writing about this? Because tonight a young man was convicted of being black at his own murder trial. Trayvon Martin was doing nothing wrong. He was walking through a neighborhood when he was stalked, attacked and subsequently shot to death. Pro-Zimmerman supporters keep saying “Well Trayvon smoked pot! “He was dressed like a thug!” “He was up to no good!” I’m so glad that vigilantes weren’t hunting pot smoking teenagers when I was 15 or 16. I would not be here nor would many of my friends and probably many of you. I’m confused, is it okay now to gun down teenagers that make us uncomfortable? I live in NYC. If there are annoying teenagers on my train car, I just switch cars. But can I now open fire?
I haven’t smoked pot in 15 years. I have a family, I’m a decent human being and I have a Master’s degree. Some of the shit I pulled when I was a teenager, makes me cringe. I was still trying to find myself and simultaneously fit in. (Things haven’t changed that much. Ugh.) Maybe Trayvon would have grown up to be a doctor or a lawyer or a janitor. Or maybe he would have committed grand theft auto and gone to prison. Who knows? He was a kid. George Zimmerman had no right to infringe on Trayvon’s civil rights and impede his right to free travel and unlawful detainment. African American football player, Plaxico Burress, was sentence to two years for shooting himself in the leg. An African-American Florida woman was sentenced to twenty years in prison for firing warning shots. The justice system discriminates against minorities and poor people. Something is very broken and how can we ever fix it? I’m absolutely disheartened that this is the society we live in. Trayvon Martin wasn’t armed, he was just black.