I was on my way to a 6:00 p.m. meeting and came flying down the hill on to our city’s lake drive like I had done 10,000 times. I was thinking about the day, bright and sunny, and the water, riled a little by the wind. I love Lake Michigan in all its glory and it’s a daily thing – whenever I see it I revel in it. What a beautiful place. And so I came flying down that hill in my old 2005 Thunderbird just enjoying being alive.
And then I saw the lights flashing behind me.
Officer: Do you know how fast you were going, young lady? (I am 70. A decent-looking 70 but still 70.)
Me: Well, probably over 40 (guessing because I had no idea, I was looking at the lake after all and not my speedometer).
Officer: 49. 19 miles over the speed limit.
Officer: Great looking car. How much is a car like this worth?
Me: Not much. About $10,000. It’s pretty but not that valuable. Except to me.
Officer: Just $10,000, really? You’d think it’d be worth a lot more than that. Beautiful car. Really. So, hey, we’re doing this enhanced enforcement thing right now because the neighbors (gesturing up the hill) have been complaining about all the speeders. So I’m really sorry but we’re doing this special enforcement thing.
Me: I understand.
Officer: I’m really sorry, ma’am. Yeah, it’s just that the neighbors keep complaining so the department had to respond. You know? (Now I am starting to feel sorry for him.)
Me: That’s okay. (He asks for my license and I hand it to him. He goes to his car and comes back about five minutes later.)
Officer: Okay, well, here’s the citation. Now you can go down to the courthouse and contest it. Just let them know you want to fight it. It’s not hard. All the directions are right here. (He holds the ticket and points with his pen how I can appeal the ticket.) I’m really sorry about this. It’s just this enhanced enforcement thing.
Me: I know. You’re just doing your job.
I looked at the $204 price tag on my little reverie flying down the hill looking at Lake Michigan and drove slowly on to my meeting. He followed me for a while and then made a U-turn to go back to his hiding place at the bottom of the hill. And that was it. All done.
That’s Jan’s traffic stop. White woman, white officer. Sunny afternoon, beautiful lake, no problem. This is my experience. This is what I expect, except for this officer being uncommonly apologetic for enforcing the law. I never for a moment worried that anything bad would happen as a result of this encounter (aside from the fine). But it never hit me until weeks later what a textbook example of white privilege this traffic stop had been. If the concept had been an abstraction before, it wasn’t any longer.
I get it now.