I use to walk down the middle of the street as a teen, and the cops would just tell me to go home, not murder me. #CrimingWhileWhiteYou have to check this out: https://twitter.com/hashtag/crimingwhilewhite
— Elizabeth Cline (@elizabethlcline) December 4, 2014
White people are confessing their petty crimes and fuckups in which the result did not leave them dead. What a concept. This is what white privilege is. Getting away with a warning and the saying "kids will be kids". But black kids don't get away with their immature shenanigans or stupid mistakes. Black kids get shot.White kids get to share a funny tweet.
I had more than a tweet's worth of story to tell about the time I was an asshole to a cop and did not get shot, so I figured I'd better blog about it. Here goes:
When I was nineteen I nannied for a wealthy family during one of my many self-scheduled breaks from college. Their last name was Jones. As in, The Jones Store. The father was somehow related to the original department store's owner and used his inheritance and privilege to his current family's advantage. Hey, man, that's just what we do, right? Katie will inherit all the pennies I make off this blog when I die someday, lucky kid.
The family I nannied for could afford to live in the good part of town. I couldn't afford to live near them. I had to get up extra early for my morning commute so I could report for diaper duty by 7AM. I am not a morning person. It's hard for me to arrive anywhere before noon, and if I'm forced to, don't expect me to be in a good mood.
I drove a 1989 Ford Festiva. My dad had bought it for me the previous summer after I had an emotional meltdown and threatened to run away with my girlfriend and skip college. It was odd. Dad had never shown any interest in my education. My guess is that he realized he was going to lose an income tax deduction if I didn't attend school. He offered to buy me a car if I'd agree to enroll at Johnson County Community College.
A couple of years earlier I had protested even getting a drivers' license before I caved and got one a month before I turned 17. I didn't like cars because I was a tree hugger and tree huggers don't like cars, in the same way I was a vegetarian because I was a Smiths fan and Smiths fans don't eat meat. By the time I was 18 my idealism had vanished and I was driving the 1974 Super Beetle my parents had bought from a friend of theirs for $500. It had a bad catalytic converter, so I smelled like rotten eggs whenever I'd meet my friends at our hangout, but I didn't care because it was this amazing machine that moved me out of my parent's world and into my own in less than twenty minutes if you take the highway.
I never thought I was the type of person to like cars, but I was actually a little sad when my parents had to sell my Super Beetle for $250 after it died on me in my high school parking lot one day and our mechanic said it would cost more to fix it than it was worth.
So when Dad decided it was time for me to enroll in college, he bought me a car so I could move back in (after having been kicked out of the house three-months before) with them and drive to school, which would be way cheaper than paying for an apartment close to school. My girlfriend and I were getting close to calling it quits, so I said why not and took my dad's offer.
It didn't last. I went for a semester or two before Dad and I got into another huge fight which resulted in my giving him back his godfuckingdamnshittyass car so he could quit fucking controlling my life, but that was after the story I want to tell you about now. The one about how I yelled at a cop and didn't get shot.
So I was driving this 1989 Ford Festiva one morning on my way to my nanny gig. I was running late, which, if you've been reading my blog for some time, you understand is a given. I lived in a part of town that got around to plowing the streets after a snowstorm about the same time the sun came out and began to melt the snow away. My Festiva was front-wheel drive, which is good in snow, but it was so light I could barely make it out of my street.
I finally made to to the good side of town and was driving along their well-plowed roads, rubbing the fog off my windshield with my glove, when I saw flashing lights faintly through the frost on my hatchback window.
Oh shit. The cops.
I had never been arrested or even gotten a ticket at that point in my life. My brother Pat once got his nose broken during his arrest outside of a car wash in the parking lot. My brother and his buddy, probably sixteen at the time, had broken the lock on the change machine at a self-service car wash and were attempting to run away when the cops showed up and arrested them.
"We hadn't thought about how heavy the change would be in our pockets. You try running with your pants pockets overflowing with change," is what my brother said when he got home and told us the story. His face looked awful--his eyes blackened from his broken nose. When the officer had Pat lying face-down in the parking lot, arms in cuffs behind his back, Pat lifted his head momentarily to ask a question and the officer responded by stepping on the back of Pat's head, crushing his nose into the pavement.
I was a kid when my brother got his nose broken by that police officer. Like seven or eight. It was confusing to get messages at school from Officer Friendly and also get messages at home from my family about being careful around cops.
So I'm 19. I'm driving down the street in the good side of town, and I get pulled over. I complied. Tip of the day: if you plan on trying your luck at a car chase with the police, do not choose a 1989 Ford Festiva for the getaway car.
As I unrolled my drivers' side window, frost flew off onto the officer's shoes. I looked up at him and said, "Yes?!" It was difficult to contain the irritation bubbling inside me as I experienced just one more roadblock on my way to babysit rich people's kids.
"Hey, hey!" The officer held a gloved hand up and waved in a grandfatherly way. "It's OK. I just wanted to pull you over to see if we can get some of this defrost off your windows so you have more visibility..."
The officer whipped out a giant ice scraper and began to scrape my windshield as I sat there and didn't know what to do. I felt completely enraged, and yet I couldn't understand why. Here was this nice officer, trying to make sure I can see out of my windows as I drive through a snowstorm, and I feel like telling him to leave my car the fuck alone. Why did I feel so hostile?
The officer finished the windshield and then came back to the driver's side window, where I was waiting and watching and wondering what I should do.
"Welp, that's better. You want to make sure and take the time to clear off all your windows before you start driving..." the officer said in a calm, paternal-adviceish tone.
That was it. I cracked. "I did clear off my windows before I started driving, but my heater doesn't work great and the defrost sucks, and so this is what I've got and it's the best I can do, so I'm sorry OFFICER, but I need to get to work." As the words left my mouth I knew I was overreacting, but I couldn't seem to stop it. I was pissed off that the cop was making me even later to my job. I was pissed off that I lived in a part of town that makes it difficult for people to get to work on time, especially during a snowstorm. I was pissed that my dad was still ragging at me to go back to college. It just felt like everyone was trying to tell me how to live my life and blocking me from doing what I wanted to do and I'd had enough.
I was a teenager, for goodness' sake. Teenagers want to get away from authority. That's natural. It's how we survive on our own.
I started to pull away, but my tire was stuck in a snowbank. I could hear the officer outside yelling, "Hey, hey, wait! Don't drive off yet!"
I didn't want to listen to him, but I was stuck. I rolled down my car window. "Am I going to get arrested for trying to get to work?!" I asked in the snottiest, most disrespectful tone I could muster.
"Hey!" The officer finally held his hand up as if to say, "shut up". But he didn't say "shut up". He said, "Hey!" He was nothing but polite to me, and I suddenly felt ashamed for having yelled at him. I started to cry.
"It's OK, I just want to help you drive safely," he said. He walked to the back where my tire was stuck and used his scrapper to remove some of the snow so my tire could gain traction enough to move. Within moments I was pulling forward, but I stopped for a minute. I think I wanted to say thank you to the officer, but I sat there numb, not knowing what to say.
He walked up to my car and proceeded to scrape my rear window. Then he patted my car's trunk and sent me on my way to my nanny gig, no thank yous from me.
At the time I didn't appreciate the good treatment I received from a real-life Officer Friendly. I was a nineteen year old girl with a chip on her shoulder and grudges to bear and I was in no mood to let a nice cop alter my general misanthropic feelings.
But today, the day after the grand jury decided not to indict the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death, I discovered that the Internet is fighting back. Go to Twitter's #CrimingWhileWhite". You will be amazed. All these white people talking about petty crimes they've committed where the police didn't make a big deal out of it, let them off, and certainly didn't kill them. It's so full of win, which is what we need in this time a tragedy. We need to come together and share our stories and let each person's voice be heard so that we can figure out how to stop hating each other and begin to heal.
Eric Garner can't share his stories. He was put into a choke-hold by an officer and died after he simply asked for the officers to stop touching him. He wasn't being aggressive. He wasn't being disrespectful. He certainly wasn't acting as atrociously as I did back when I was a 19 year old punk.
The difference? I was a 19 year old suburban white girl punk driving around like an idiot with frost on my windows, and Eric Garner was a 44 year old urban black man allegedly breaking up a fight on the sidewalk, or maybe, if anything, selling cigarettes without a license, definitely no crime that one would be sentenced to death for committing.
Please, white people. Step up. Share your stories of privilege so that our great nation can speak openly and honestly about race and our police brutality problem.