To a Pennsylvania House Minority Leader: When cops profile you, they don’t actually need an offense

Silly me, I’d just put all the drivers yacking on their phones around Pittsburgh down to the general lack of traffic enforcement. Assuming a bill passed by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives becomes law, it’ll be a secondary offense, still a step behind places like California, due to fears of racist policing.[1]

Minority Whip Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, voted for it after speaking about how black drivers could be exposed to racial profiling stops if the language had not been amended to make it a secondary violation.

“As an African-American male who crisscrosses this commonwealth, I am nervous at times when I’m driving in Pennsylvania,” Harris said. “That is real.”[2]

I don’t know about some of that. The bullshit I hear about from passengers, who rely on Lyft especially but also Uber precisely because they’re afraid of racist policing, doesn’t seem to require any actual offense at all.

Then there’s the bullshit I’ve personally experienced.

I remember once being profiled not because of my race but because I was driving an old Toyota pickup truck. The cop tried to claim I had expired tags (I most certainly didn’t). I showed him my registration and he claimed it had expired last year. He actually, to my face, tried to tell me the year was not the current year but the next. Gotta tell you, I was flabbergasted.

Another time, in that same truck, I got pulled over by a very rookie cop. It was night time, he had trouble figuring out how to turn on his fucking light bar, I didn’t even know he was a cop, and he flashed his high beams at me to get me to pull over, so I pulled into a well-lit gas station. He claimed my tail lights were dim. I drove that truck for years with those very same taillights and that was the only time that happened.

Then there’s the time I was driving a very old and ratty looking Toyota sedan (these cars’ll last forever) that I’d bought for $300, when I got pulled over by a cop who told me I had a taillight out. I asked him which one. There was a long filled pause there: “Uhhhhhhh…..” Then he said one (I think the left, but it’s been a while). When I got where I was going, I checked. The light was fine and it wasn’t a matter of a loose wire.

The lesson I’ve taken from these experiences is that it’s a bad idea to drive an old car. Thanks to family help, I’ve managed to fix that. My cars are still old, but not nearly so old and I keep them presentable, only in part because I’m driving for Uber and Lyft. The one time I’ve been pulled over since is the time I really did blow a “No Turn on Red” (they’re much more common around here than in California) right in front of a Dormont cop right by the Dormont police station. (My car was also filled with stuff I was moving from California, I still had California tags, and he angrily wanted to know what I was doing.)

But if you’re Black, you have a more permanent problem. Especially when, as I’ve personally seen, cops’ll just make shit up.

  1. [1]Associated Press, “Pennsylvania House votes to stop drivers’ use of hand-held phones,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 15, 2020, https://triblive.com/news/pennsylvania/pennsylvania-house-votes-to-stop-drivers-use-of-hand-held-phones/; Stephen Caruso, “After years of trying, Pa. House finally passes handheld cell phone ban,” Pennsylvania Capital-Star, January 15, 2020, https://www.penncapital-star.com/criminal-justice/under-house-proposal-youll-pay-for-distracted-driving-but-cant-be-pulled-over-for-it/
  2. [2]Associated Press, “Pennsylvania House votes to stop drivers’ use of hand-held phones,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 15, 2020, https://triblive.com/news/pennsylvania/pennsylvania-house-votes-to-stop-drivers-use-of-hand-held-phones/

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