Growing up in a family with two older siblings, I, like most kids, reached a stage when I could not wait until I turned 16; this was to be a time of a felt independence and somewhat limited freedom. 16 represented what it meant to be a teenager, however, of course, with some responsibilities. The thing that I most looked forward to at age 16 was being able to legally drive without my parents having to accompany me. Being the youngest of three, I envied my two older brothers regarding many things, not least of which was having my own car. I can remember my first car, a rustic brown 1973, 2-door Toyota Celica. Great on gas, I could fill her up on about $10.00 - I think gas was around a $1.25 per gallon at the time. Although my car was not the fanciest or the newest model, I was happy to have my own ride which meant that I did not have to beg anyone in my household to take me places nor did I have to rely on hitching a ride from my friends. Sure there were parental driving restrictions imposed upon me: I could not drive to L. A. without permission nor stay out until the wee hours of the morning, but this (in my household) was to be expected.
My preparedness for learning to drive meant taking driver's education. This included studying the rules of the road and learning the actual mechanics of driving. I eagerly anticipated the day of my driving test at the local (and always crowded) Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV). I was well prepared for my written test but experienced some nervousness on the road exam. After passing with flying colors, I looked forward to being one of the many responsible drivers on the roads of Southern California. But nothing in my driver's education, or in my actual driving practice with the Dootson School of Driving, prepared me for the experience of "driving while Black" (DWB).
Soon after hitting the road as a fully legal, licensed driver, I encountered what would be my first of many (DWB) routine and unmerited stops. Being a new driver on the road, I was careful to observe every traffic rule and road sign I saw. This first police stop, as with subsequent stops, yielded no ticket or major incident; besides being initiated (almost as a kind of hazing ritual) under the DWB experience, this and subsequent stops planted something deep within my psyche. From that time to this very day, I yet become extremely nervous - sometimes breaking out in a sweat - when I see a police car tailing me. I become tense and look for ways to turn off the road. This probably is due not only to the stories I have heard about police beatings, shootings, and stops which result in officers planting illegal substances, but my own experience of being pulled over in Los Angeles by an LAPD cruiser.
One weekend evening while out on a drive down Crenshaw Boulevard, I (along with a school buddy of mine) once again experienced a DWB moment; this stop, though, would be my most traumatic. Upon seeing the flashing lights in my rear view mirror, I pulled into an empty gas station at the corner of Crenshaw and Florence. With a blinding spotlight glaring into my eyes, over a loud speakerphone one of the officers ordered us out of the car. Wondering what I had done (and frankly hoping that my friend had not done anything either), we were then ordered to put our hands on our head and stand with our faces toward a wall. When I asked what we had done, both officers pulled their guns and pointed them at us while vociferously demanding that we comply with their orders; this was the first time (and to be frank, hopefully the last) that I have ever stared down the barrel of a gun. Heart pounding with terror, I just knew that I would be shot in the back – my life flashed before my eyes. We were patted down then ordered to sit on the ground while my car was vigorously searched. After what seemed like an eternal nightmare, one of the officers said we looked like possible suspects then turned around, got in the cruiser and bolted. No apology – nothing! Like that I had felt violated, profiled and abused. Again, nothing in my driver's education prepared me for this experience. Nothing creates more fear and at the same time humiliation when you are either stopped in front of bystanders or stopped at night with no one else around. It has now been nearly 26 years since this event, yet the effects and reality of DWB still haunt me. The DWB reality is something that parents should make sure to incorporate in their children's driver's education
Pray daily for God's protection over your children, every moment. Each day as your children leave your home, pray for God's blessing of protection on them throughout the day. "In Jesus' name I cover my children with supernatural, protection, and in His name I bind Satan and all his evil from touching them."
[Jamal-Dominique Hopkins (Ph.D., University of Manchester, U.K.) is Director of J. D. Institute and C.E.O. of the Institute for Advanced African American Christian Thought. He is the author of Thinking Out Loud: Thoughts and Reflections on Life, Faith, Culture and Crisis (Journal Publication, 2013), and "Duty or Responsibility? The African American Evangelical's Identity" in the Journal of African American Christian Thought (2009). Hopkins is available for preaching, speaking or conducting workshops or seminars. You may contact him at 626-354-8438 or www.jdinstitute.weebly.com.]