You know, in the past four days I’ve been given three traffic tickets. One of them I really deserved: I was parked illegally in a campus lot, and they caught me red-handed. Another, I was definitely innocent, parked between two parking signs (confirmed by my passenger).
In the third, I made what appeared to be a legal right turn in downtown Ottawa, but was pulled over and dinged for an “illegal right turn”. While waiting for my ticket to be written, I sat in the car for about six minutes, during which time I watched the same cop pull over about five other vehicles for the same infraction. Clearly, we all can’t be blind. Was there really a sign?
Then I took a good look at each of the other drivers as he (they were all men) was directed to park near me and await his ticket. We were all visible minorities, more precisely men of dark skin. Coincidence? Quite possibly. Maybe we darkies are all visually impaired when it comes to street signs. Or, to be more demographically precise, maybe non-white men between 30 and 55, traveling alone, are more likely to be scofflaws?
In Toronto a week ago, I was pulled over by a cop for no particular reason. He later stammered out a weak explanation of, “Um, you’re driving a rental car and I thought I should check it out.”
Really? Driving a rental car is now grounds for being pulled over? And remember this story about being interrogated by a traffic cop over a lost passport three years earlier? How does a traffic cop get access to my federal travel documents from his vehicle computer, and why does he feel the need to express his power trip by bringing it to my attention?
Another common characteristic to all of these incidents (minus simply finding tickets on my windshield, of course) is the attitude and behaviour of the policemen involved. Gruff condescension is the norm, not respectful concern for society.
I don’t know what’s going on. I do notice however, that something has changed within me regarding my perception of policemen. When I was younger and saw a cop walking or driving by, it made me feel safer. I was happy to see him. Now when I see one, I get tense and try to avoid eye contact.
These experiences are almost akin to those continuously experienced by non-white people at borders and airports. Just last November, as I was the only non-white person traveling with a medical team to Guyana, I was stopped four times in one leg alone, consistently the only member of our team singled out for scrutiny. Random search, my ass.
Do keep in mind that I have never been charged or investigated for a crime, beyond traffic violations. Few would argue that I’m not an involved and visible member of civil society.
As a friend put it, something has changed in the way our society selects and trains policemen (and customs people), it seems. Years ago, he argues, they were chosen for their paternal characteristics (they were all men, after all). Middle aged, wise-cracking dudes were the norm. Now they mostly seem to be 25 year old thugs with brush cuts. A more discourteous description is, “a football team with guns”.
Mind you, I’ve had some very positive experiences with policemen, as well. But, as in all things, when enough negative experiences arise, those are the examples one remembers and that one slots into a pattern. (Is this unscientific? Let’s let Nasty Nicky B figure that one out for us.)
All of this is weirdly in contrast with my experiences dealing with members of the military in pretty much every country I’ve visited, including the USA. I have found soldiers to be remarkably well mannered and deferential.
Perhaps this is all yet one more reason I should consider running for public office one day…. if the questionable content on this blog hasn’t already disqualified me!
In Other News…
I had an interesting visit to a student massage clinic last night. The therapist I was assigned was blind. Well, good for her. What a great career for a visually impaired person, since she can feel her way through it quite well. We had a good laugh about her having to struggle to “drape” me appropriately. Frankly, why should I care whether or not I’m exposed to a blind person?
It did get a little weird, though, when she tried to give a happy ending to my big toe.
(Kidding! I’m kidding! …mostly.)