I'd never gotten pulled over before this week.
I was about two and a half hours into my three and a half-hour drive back to my apartment in Athens, OH, from home, where I'd been based — and had hardly left — since contracting COVID-19 mid-June.
On that two-lane stretch of highway for 90 miles, my favorite part of the drive (aside from coming around the bend and seeing campus from the highway), where the speed limit is 70 and there's hardly a soul for miles, I usually push my luck to make good time. I'd done the drive enough times now and not seen a single police car, oddly enough, so I got pretty brave, to spare you the exact details.
Suddenly, a car behind me was flying. I moved into the other lane, what any sane and slightly concerned person would do. They slowed down when they came up behind me, so I slowed down too.
Then I realized it was a cop car.
Soon came the lights, and I pulled over to the side of the road for the very first time.
I reached into the center counsel and held up my facemask to the rearview mirror. I learned in my government class in high school how to deal with traffic stops safely, so I figured that was the best thing to do. Put on a facemask to respect the officer and let them know I didn't just pull out a gun or something. And so I waited for the officer to come to my driver's side window.
However, I heard a knock on the passenger side. Naturally, because of COVID-19 that was smart, but it definitely startled me. It was a young cop. He asked for my license and registration. I know for sure he could see my hands shaking as I looked for it in my tiny pink wallet. Then I reached into my glove compartment to look for my registration. My mom had important papers in a labeled envelope just in case my siblings or I ever got ourselves into this situation, which I just did. There were two pieces of paper in there, so I just handed him both.
He asked me if I had ever gotten a ticket before. I told him I'd never been pulled over. I felt strangely calm, actually. I think the passenger-side window helped calm my nerves a little bit.
He asked what I was doing, as he saw all my stuff in the back. I told him I was moving into school. Where? OU. He knew I had over an hour to go still. He told me I was going pretty fast. I apologized profusely and told him it was getting dark and I was getting nervous.
He told me he'd let me off with a warning if everything checked out.
He told me to have a safe trip.
I was elated.
I'd gotten off with no consequences.
I was buzzing for a couple of minutes.
And then it hit me.
I wasn't too nervous. I got off with a warning. I remembered that some people fear for their lives and even lose their lives with traffic stops as simple as mine.
I reflected on my white privilege and how I can continue to use it to lift up BIPOC voices, support BIPOC businesses, donate to organizations, post informational posts on social media, speak up in difficult situations, and sign petitions. Always, and not just when it's convenient for me or popular to do so.
I get lucky in these situations because of the color of my skin. I can't control that. But I can control whether or not I am complacent when people are dying because of the color of theirs.
If you're reading this, please, when you're done, go donate. Sign a petition. Read up on Black history or ways in which to use the privilege you possess. Check on your BIPOC family and friends. Do something. Put in the time and effort.
Black Lives Matter. And they always matter, not just when it's trending.