Here’s how it went down:
It was July 4th weekend and we were vacationing in a New England town I know quite well. My husband and I were taking another couple on a driving tour around the beautiful, coastal area. Darkness settled and we found ourselves on a long, unlit two-lane straightaway. The car ahead of us was going under ten miles per hour. I assumed they were pulling off to the side of the road or into a driveway, so I cautiously went around them.
Suddenly, the crawling car picked up speed, high beams blazing, and began dangerously tailgating us. Clearly, I had somehow offended the driver. We’ve all heard the most upsetting of road rage stories so I got scared — especially when I realized the car was following me no matter which way I turned. Inches from my back bumper, the driver followed us several miles into the parking lot of the restaurant where we were having dinner.
While my girlfriend and I made for the restaurant door, the two men in our party stayed back to find out what the heck was going on with this driver. Before we even got to the entrance, she pulled up, rolled down her window, and yelled, “My dad’s a cop and he’s coming to get you!” before she roared off. Yeah. Whatever, crazy chick.
I was still shaken as we were seated at a table in front of a large picture window in the packed restaurant. Almost immediately, we watched incredulously as a police cruiser entered the parking lot. Seriously? This is nuts. They can’t possibly be looking for me. My sister, who had met us at the restaurant, had the best angle and gave us the blow-by-blow of what was happening: He’s driving around, he’s stopped at your car and, yes, now he’s coming in.
Moments later, the very harried and sweating owner/chef was rushing from table to table, reading from a scrap of paper and yelling, “Anyone have a white _____ with a _____ plate?”
“That’s my car,” I offered, as he passed our group.
“Well,” the frazzled chef said, “there’s a cop at the front door who wants to talk to you.”
I asked the men at the table to remain seated. This was not the moment to invite a testosterone-fueled face-off. My sister and I decided we’d be the ones to speak with him. As we made our way to the front of the crowded restaurant, hearts pounding, the white, middle-aged cop sized us up as we approached him. The first words out of his mouth: “You two?”
In other words, you two middle-aged, relatively well-dressed, sober ladies are the ones my nutty-assed daughter called me about? As dozens of diners and waitstaff watched — ears perked up and mouths agape — the officer began his lie-laden spiel:
“Another driver called 911 after they saw you weaving all over the road, speeding, and throwing trash out of your windows.”
We calmly assured him this simply wasn’t the case. I offered to take any sobriety test he’d like to administer. My goal, plainly, was to make this ugly incident go away quietly.
As we feigned our surprise that another driver would make a false report like this, he quickly changed his story:
“Well, actually, another cop called this in when he saw you on the road,” he claimed.
Really? So another cop sees me speeding and weaving all over the road and decides not to pull me over but, instead, asks you to come into a restaurant and harass me while I’m having dinner with friends and family? That’s your story, officer? Because it simply doesn’t fly. Because it simply wasn’t true.
It’s hard to say what this small-town cop was after. Some good, old-fashioned hassling of the drunken teenage boys he thought he’d find at the other end of his delirious darling’s report? A little fun-in-the-sun intimidation of out-of-staters who converge on his town with abandon three months out of the year?
The cop didn’t handcuff me or pat me down. He certainly didn’t pull his gun on me. But, in that moment, I felt true powerlessness. I was being accused of something I didn’t do and my only defense was my word. Truth is, without my age and whiteness to shield me, the whole incident could’ve gone quickly sideways.
I’m no expert in police protocol but I do know this cop reacted to a call he got on his personal cell phone from a young woman with many bones to pick with the world. I’m a big fan of law enforcement and the good they do, but when they act without grounds or procedural etiquette, it bodes poorly for all of us. This, all too sadly, we already know.
We trust those in blue to get the bad guys and we’re grateful when they do. But, seems to me, correctly identifying who’s truly a threat to our society and safety is a good place to start.
The ACLU recommends that when questioned by law enforcement, you should never lie. Now more than ever, that seems like sound advice for those on both sides of the badge.