Suspicious? My Experience of Being Profiled in Florida

As the fight for justice continues in the Trayvon Martin killing, I am reminded of my personal experience of being profiled.  I share this story knowing that this happened to me only one time in my life, while others experience this every day. My experience didn’t result in a tragedy, but it did enlighten me to what it is like to be targeted as suspicious.

I was in Miami on vacation with friends. We were riding in a rental car, a new Cadillac Seville.  We flew in that day from Arizona. It was about 1AM and we were returning from a night out, where we had a great dinner in South Beach and then stopped at a hoppin’ Miami night club. We were sober but tired from dancing.  Not one of us drink, so it was just a matter of getting back to the hotel to get a good night’s sleep before an early morning golf game.

Riding back to our 4-Star hotel, I said to my friend Lloyd, who was driving, “Check out that cop car parked on the other side of the road. He is missing a headlight. Who will pull him over?” Next thing I knew, we were being pulled over.  Stunned, I thought now that’s strange.

Then, I experienced the unthinkable as a 39-year-old white woman – blatant racial profiling.  I was a victim of suspicion by association.  I was riding passenger in a new car with two black men.  My two friends were profiled.  I became witness to freedom, justice and liberty for some, but definitely not all.  Not for my friends that night.

It was a police truck that had a service dog in the back with one working headlight, no less. We immediately stopped. Lloyd unrolled his window. “Yes, officer? What did we do?” Immediately, the officer took a hostile tone. “I don’t have to tell you. Give me your driver licenses?”  Lloyd asked, “Everyone?” The cop said, “Yes!”  Again, Lloyd asks, “Why did you turn around and pull us over?”  The cop said, “I didn’t flip around.  I was following you and I don’t need to tell you anything.”

I thought to myself, why would he lie?  The police officer ignored any other questions and kept looking at our license then walked to the back of our rental car.

There were three people in our car. I was in the front passenger seat. Lloyd was driving and our friend was in the back. I thought it was really strange that we had to all give our licenses. I watched him in my visor mirror as he stood behind our car.  He had our licenses in hand and was smelling each of them.

He returned to the front driver’s window, standing far away.  I asked, “Why are you smelling our licenses?” I knew he was trying to see if it smelled like drugs.  He said his nose itched!  It was then I knew this was more than a traffic stop.

Another officer then arrived at the scene. He was hispanic. He told my friend Lloyd, “Man, you are talking too loud. You are making him nervous.  I’m used to black people talking loud, but you are scaring the other officer.” What did I just hear? Now my heart is racing.

The officer then said, “Please get out of the car.” We all proceeded to get out of the car and then I saw the police dog being unloaded from the back of the truck. I am still somewhat shocked and even more angered now, so I followed the cop and the dog as he opened our trunk of the rental car and walked around the car. I am not sure why he let me follow him.  I really thought he might throw something in the car.  It did kind of seem like a bad cop movie.  I was really frightened.  My two friends stood quietly on the curb.

Two more police officer cars arrived on the scene. I started asking for an explanation. “What is going on?” The officer in charge took us aside and said to us, “You see, there was a gray Cadillac in the county next to ours that was involved in a drive-by shooting. It was a black guy with dreads driving.”

My angered response, “Who has dreads in this car? I am white. Our Cadillac is golden brown. And these two black men are completely bald! So, again why were we pulled over? Why was our car just searched?”

The officer said, “Oh, he didn’t understand the police radio call.  He must of been confused.” Are you kidding me? And then it was over.  We were told we could leave.

I never felt more fearful of my freedom.  My liberty.  I kept thinking my company and my family might not know that I was thrown in jail.  I could just disappear.  Is this how it happens?  I have traveled to many other countries and I felt like I was not in my own — the United States of America.  My heart was racing.

Sadly, I know this takes place all the time.  My friends told me so for years. I hear about it from co-workers, family and close friends that are African American.  They tell me it’s called “DWB – Driving While Black”.  Really!  It has a name!  My black friends would tell stories at work and dinner parties about being pulled over for no reason. They get stopped in the street for walking. They get asked where they are going when walking across a parking lot. Never ticketed, just stopped. They are followed in stores.  People lock doors around them, grab their purses on elevators.  I’ve seen it more than once.  They are suspicious.  One good friend was pulled over because his white godson was in the car with him.  The cop said he was just checking on the boy.  You see, my friend is black.  Sometimes we laugh, but it’s not funny. Not at all.

I left Miami shocked and scared.  And, really mad. This is what my friends experience all the time. No equal rights. Profiling. Assumed guilty of doing something. Suspicious! Until then, I had never thought about those that didn’t get to drive or walk away or boys like Trayvon.  Now I see and hear these real life stories and I’m heartbroken. Ten years later.  More now than ever.

Trayvon Martin Family Photo 2012

In the call for justice for Trayvon, I am saddened about parents who have to give civil rights reminders and lessons on how to behave in public to avoid suspicion.  Pull up your pants!  Take down your hoodie! Or what, you might be shot?

I was a senior executive at a global company. My friends were both in law enforcement. I told Lloyd to show the officer his badge when this was happening to us. He said, “No. I shouldn’t have to show him my badge. This shouldn’t happen in America.”  But it did.

They never knew they were in law enforcement until I turned to them all as we got in the car and said, “By the way, you just pulled over two law enforcement people from Arizona.” They just starred. No apology.  I knew in my heart, we were lucky.  We drove away.

I am sorry for all those that don’t get to drive or walk away. Those that are profiled every day. I am sorry for the suspicion, unnecessary and unfair. I know it happens to our young black men every day, our sons, and it only happened to me once. Maybe if more people experience what I experienced, they would understand the shame, danger and disgrace of stereotyping in this country. The unjust and unfair suspicion.  The anger.

Fight For JusticeThe killing of Trayvon because he was “up to no good” is a calling to all of us.  Let’s live up to what our country was founded on, “liberty and justice for all”.  Stop the suspicion. It’s not right. Stop it. Now. It’s time. And, let’s make sure we see justice.  A trial. That’s a start.

A 21st Century War on Women – Really?

Women Work Women Vote

What next, our right to vote? War on Women is Absurd!

Why? Colleagues, friends and family of both genders and all political persuasions continue to shake our heads in disbelief. The dialogue today is stunning.  Shocking. Are we really going to have a “new” discussion about women’s role in society, reproductive rights and ability to think for ourselves?

It is 2012 and the national conversation has centered on several issues that disrespect, disregard and dismiss women.  It started long before a group of men wanted to discuss the government’s role in paying for birth control.  We have been waging this war for over a century.  Recently, it started surfacing again when several state legislators across the country proposed new rules and regulations that would prevent women from getting access to healthcare. Some have succeeded already (Texas, Virginia) and others are still sadly working to limit access and care. (Arizona).

We’ve seen the debate cycle through various forms, all with a strong movement to limit women’s access to affordable, necessary and reliable healthcare. The subtext of it all that seems to be the most shocking is the derogatory tone of the dialogue.  As a women, it says to me “shut up and sit down”.  Really?  Um, no!

I have the ability and can afford to stand up.  What happens with the poor?  Those that don’t have access to women’s healthcare and family planning?  The new discussions go far beyond just limiting birth control and forcing women to have unnecessary ultrasounds to prevent abortions.  No to mammograms, no to ovarian cancer tests.  Access to preventative care that can SAVE lives.  Where is the logic?  If we limit reproductive healthcare, aren’t we going to force more demand for abortions?  Unwanted pregnancies seem to be the impetus for abortion, so wouldn’t access to affordable family planning help prevent abortions?  Virtually all women (more than 99%) aged 15–44 who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method. Vital and Health Statistics, 2010, Series 23, No. 29.

Aside from the discussion of a women’s right to choose, the bigger and broader debate today is how we got back to this discussion 40 years later?  90 years later for equal rights?  What has changed in the country that puts women’s rights at risk – again?

Some may argue that women took for granted that we achieved equality without the need to make it a protected right.  We assumed we are in control of our own health and well-being.  Women’s health should not be up for discussion.  It’s not political.  Saving lives is not political.  If women did “assume” we were in control, was this an assumption of grand illusion?  It appears so.

Women have fought for rights that men have been granted solely by their gender.  Look at the suffrage movement and fight for the right to vote nearly a century ago.  It appears that our rights should not be taken for granted and the fight is not over.  We must press on.  Future generations of women depend on us.  Women need affordable healthcare.  Women need to be in control of their own bodies.  Women need equal pay for equal work.  Women need the same rights as men. It’s not political.

So, in case it needs to be said, we pay taxes.  And, we vote!  The “War on Women” will continue, there is no doubt.  I am reminded of one of my favorite lines from Dirty Dancing, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”  "Nobody puts Baby in a corner"We won’t put aspirin between our knees.  We won’t accept zealot misogynists and bigots telling us to shut up and be happy with our diamonds and dinners.  We won’t go back to being submissive house help.  Our nation can’t afford it economically and women want more and have proven our place in society!

We are women in the board room, women in political office, women CEO’s, working moms, we are women in every profession.  We are scientists, technologists, chefs and journalists.  We are single moms, we are married women, independent women and women with a voice.  We are rich.  We are poor.  We are fighters.  We protect and we give birth.  Every one came from a mother!  We all exist because of a woman.  So, why the war?

Most importantly, we are the women that vote.  We won’t fight this war for long.  You see, we just assumed it was over.  Women are equal.  Maybe it is time to pass the Equal Rights Amendment that was first proposed in 1923.  Maybe then, the war would be over!  Maybe.