I Survived My DUI Stop. But I’m White.

Another black man was killed by police in Atlanta. Shot in the back while he was running away.

Know the egregious act that ended his life?

He was drunk. And he fell asleep in his car in a Wendy’s drive-thru.

This is a story I should be hearing in an AA meeting in a church basement drinking chronically bad coffee. Not reading in the paper. Because he shouldn’t be dead.

Every black person gunned down, or choked to death, or any of the myriad of ways black people can die in this country just from being black feels personal to me. (If it doesn’t feel personal to you, it’s because systemic racism has done its job convincing you that black people are complicit their own abuse and destruction in this country. Don’t worry. Your condition is reparable. Pick up A People’s History of the United States and start reading.)

But Rayshard Brooks. This case forces me stare right into the face of my own white priviledge.

Why?

He died for doing something I’ve done too may times to count: he drove drunk. Am I proud of that? Hell no. But was I murdered by police for it? No. I wasn’t.

Here’s what happened to me instead:

I was driving the wrong way down a one way street in Tallahassee, Florida. I was actively operating my vehicle. Rayshard Brooks was asleep in his.

I got pulled over. I was obviously drunk. I’d been driving with one eye closed so I could see the road more clearly (again, not something I’m proud of–but it’s factual). And, again, careening the wrong way on a one way street. Clear indication that maybe shit has gone real wrong.

Rayshard Brooks wasn’t currently a danger to anyone when the police approached him. He was inconvenient to Wendy’s customers.

When the cop approached me, I had zero concern for my own safety and a wanton disregard for other people’s lives. I was so entitled and such a drunk shit that I wasn’t even worried I would go to jail. The cop was annoyed with me.

Annoyed. Not lethal.

I told him that I knew one of his fellow officers, and his demeanor changed immediately. He wasn’t even annoyed anymore. He was concerned for my safety. He told me to go straight home.

Right.

I’m visibly drunk. I get pulled over. I am entitled, completely unremorseful, and am throwing around the names of other cops simply to avoid the DUI that would’ve been a more than fair consequence for actively putting people’s lives a risk.

And he told me to be safe and sent me on my way. He didn’t even follow me home.

So you know what I did?

I went through a fast food drive through for a late night snack on my way home. Just like Rayshard Brooks.

No one was concerned about Rayshard Brooks getting home safely. Clearly.

Drunk driving kills innocent people. It’s an offense I take incredibly seriously now, on this side of sobriety. I also know that drunk people are irrational, belligerent, and can change moods on a dime. Does Rayshard Brooks grabbing the officer’s taser mean he was violent? Nope. Should it have gotten him killed? I know that’s not even a real question.

This is precisely why we need to defund the police. They shouldn’t even have been there. Rayshard Brooks wasn’t an active threat to anyone. He was sleeping it off in his car. Which is pretty much all you can do with drunk folks anyway. But who else were Wendy’s employees supposed to call? If we defunded the police and shifted money around so that trained professionals could address drunk and disorderly conduct and substance abuse without lethal force–with an eye on getting people the help they need–well, Rayshard Brooks surely wouldn’t be dead.

White folks acting like they don’t understand what defund the police means–I don’t believe you. You understand damn well. But you also know you are extremely unlikely to be murdered by police while driving drunk, or after a routine traffic stop, or sleeping in your own bed. You are comfortable with the status quo because it is unlikely to kill you.

It is unconscionable to risk more black lives for the comfort and sense of security of folks living out their white privilege. Defunding the police is imperative. Rayshard Brooks has every bit as much right to be alive as I do.

Might, Maybe, Might

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Here’s what I remember:

I am 4 years old. I am in a brightly colored room (primary colors, primarily). Cubbies occupy one of the walls, looking cozy and inviting. Like a space I could learn to identify as my own. So I readily ignore them. I am not interested in belonging. I am interested in getting the hell out of there.

I am currently exercising my will to scream. And cry. Snot is everywhere. I am breathing the jagged breaths that feel out of control and scary. They only make me cry harder. The woman holding me, rocking me back and forth, tries to reason with me about the fun I’ll have, the friends I’ll make, if only I will get out of her lap and try

I am starting to want to try. From my heightened vantage point in my teacher’s arms, I can see kids outside riding Big Wheels. I don’t have a Big Wheel at home. I want to ride, to gather speed and feel my ponytails fly behind me. I bet I can be pretty fast on a Big Wheel. Still, I cry.

I open my mouth to tell my teacher that I might, maybe, might be ready to try. I think maybe I can do this. I want to break my commitment to misery and play instead.

Then another teacher approaches us: “We’ve called her mom. She’s on her way.”

I look at the teacher holding me and cry harder. Because I was just ready to try. And now it’s over, before I even got a chance to start.

I’ve remembered this feeling for the past 36 years–the defeat of having committed myself so much to fear and sadness that I’ve crossed the point of no return, that I’ve lost control. That feeling of helplessness, of watching events unfold, grasping and not being able to change them–it haunts me.

I felt that way in the deepest depths of my love affair with alcohol. I wanted to escape the pain I was in; drinking caused more pain and shame and self-loathing. I knew it. I saw it. But I’d committed to this affair, to blackout drinking, to reckless sex, to oblivion. When I thought I might, maybe, might be ready to try to deal with the wreckage of my life, I’d see how far things had gone. And I’d feel that helpless, grasping feeling–like I’d lost control, like I’d never be able to put things back together. And so I’d sit at the bar and order a stiff drink, so I could forget what I’d just struggled so hard to remember: that I might not be beyond salvation, if I’d just try.

 

Photo Credit: Flicker/John Morgan