Monday, March 20, 2006

Alabama Justice

Some may find this story infuriating. Others may find it comical. Some may be disgusted. Others may just purse their lips, shake their heads, and go, “yeah, that sounds about right.” But no matter how you cut it, this story is an eye-opener to anyone who thinks racism is not alive and well.

Saturday morning me and five white friends (and one Asian) piled into our rented Dodge Durango (it’s got a DVD!) filled with empty beer cans and red plastic cups. It was really more of a rolling bar than anything else. We were all hungover and knew there were exactly two cures for our ailments: More booze and Waffle House. So we all took a couple swigs out of a flask of Bacardi Gold and headed out to the nearest Yellow-and-Black bastion of mediocre breakfast. Unfortunately we seemed to be staying off of the only freeway off-ramp in the entire state of Alabama not containing a Waffle House, so I had to ask our Hotel Concierge, Tomika, for directions. Tomika gave me some typically southern directions that contained a bunch of landmarks named something like “Guy’s Auto Repair” and “The Old Baptist Church” and “Ray’s service station,” all essentially places that someone who had not grown up with a 205 area code would not understand. Needless to say, I couldn’t find the damn Waffle House.

I thought I saw one on my left and signaled to change lanes into the left turn lane. As I got over BAM! I was sideswiped by a white van. Now, I don’t ever buy rental insurance, nor do I even have regular insurance on my car at home, so I am shitting a brick. After a brief “Hey, what happened?”me and the driver of the van pull into a parking lot to exchange information. The driver is a middle-aged black man who was using the van for work. He was there with a black female, possibly a girlfriend, and a younger black man with gold teeth. I attempted to rectify the situation by offering him cash for the scrape of red paint on his van, but he insisted that we must call the police. Now mind you, I have taken two shots of rum and have a car full of beer cans, so I am in no hurry to have the cops show up. I offer him some obscene amounts of money to go away but he tells me no dice, since this is a work vehicle and his boss will need a police report.

Well, my friends decide this would be a good opportunity to throw away all the contraband in the dumpster of a nearby gas station, which they do. Just then, as I am sipping on a smoothie I purchased to get the rum off my breath, the cop shows up. My friends apparently were spotted by the van driver’s girlfriend, who attempts to alert the cop to the white kids from the Durango (It’s got a Hemi!) throwing away 45 empty Strohs. He tells her to shut up and apologizes to me, to which I reply, “Hey, they’re just cleaning out the car.” The cop immediately approaches the black man who was driving the van and says “What the Hell happened here?” The driver answered his question rather honestly, stating that he had been in the left turn lane and was unable to stop in time as I pulled out.
‘Well, why’d you move the cars?” the cop asked. I informed him we didn’t want to block traffic, which he found acceptable.
“So, you sideswiped this guy?” he said to the driver.
“No, he was getting in the other lane and I couldn’t stop in time.” He responded.
“Were you speeding?” asked the cop.
“No.,” The cop gave him a nod that said, “yeah, whatever,” and proceeded to take down the driver’s information. He then walked me to the back of my Durango and said:
“Hey, how are you? I’m officer Johnson. So, ah, are your friends okay?”
“Yes, sir we’re fine.”
“So what happened?” his tone was amazingly friendly for a southern cop. I told him that I had been trying to get into the left turn lane and that’s when I got hit. Which was true. I said we both kind of got to the same point at the same time. Which was also true.
“Yeah, that happens. Okay, well let me get your license and registration and all that and we can get you on your way.” So I handed him my suspended-in-Florida Washington State License, an insurance card from California in 2004, and a rental agreement. He took down my info, thanked me for my time, and sent me on my way. I was not issued a ticket, nor was I reminded to look before I change lanes. I’m not sure if the other driver got a ticket as I got the fuck out of there as fast as I could. I hope he didn’t.

Not to sound like an apologist, because I am not. At all. But I will be the first to admit that that accident was more my fault than the black guy’s. Unfortunately for the other driver, since no ticket was issued, it is, at best, a no-fault accident. So he will be paying for the damage that I did. Why? I’m not going to speculate, but the difference in treatment between the group of white kids (semi-liquored-up white kids, I might add) and the two black men was pretty stark. I felt bad, but not bad enough to ask the officer to cite me. That’s just stupid. Honorable, but stupid. At any rate, I’m not sure how I feel about this whole incident. I probably got away with something I shouldn’t have thanks to blatant racial discrimination. Should I feel guilty? Lucky? Stupid? Or perhaps a mixture of all three. I don’t know. But I do know that as much as it may be difficult to be a white man in Miami, it is exponentially easier than being a black man in Alabama.

13 Comments:

At 9:19 PM, Anonymous rumandpopcorn said...

I'm not trying to let you off the hook, you can feel a little guilty if you want (and probably should). And everyone should be disturbed, because not only is this blatant racism, but it's crap-ass law enforcement. It can't be long before this officer screws up something major--if he hasn't already. He's probably a multi-million dollar civil-rights case waiting to happen to Alabama's taxpayers.

But, the black guy is the one who insisted on getting the police involved. I'm presuming he's from there, and no one should expect shoddy treatment from law enforcement, but he could not have been shocked the shit went down the way it did. I can't believe he wasn't perceptive enough to pick up on your situation, figure out some other way to square things with his boss, and take your money. He had you over a barrel (of Stroh's, apparently), unless his situation was really dire with his boss (which maybe, it had to be).

So, chalk this one up as an eye-opening experience, and just go "whew!". If that officer had merely been somewhat competent, you would be seriously fucked right now.

 
At 10:50 PM, Blogger Bad at Life said...

Wow, that just sounds like an awful situation for everybody involved.

Not that it excuses the cop, but do you think it's possible that it just never occurred to him that you'd be drinking on a saturday morning? I feel like I've avoided a few scrapes just by virtue of the fact that people generally assume no "normal" person would really be drunk by 11:00 am.

 
At 11:31 PM, Blogger angel, jr. said...

Woah!!! I can't believe that happened.

 
At 7:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I drive a company vehicle as well and if I get any scratch/dent on my vehicle i have to fill out an accident report. If i were to write that i struck or was struck by another car without a police report. I'd be looking for work and a new vehicle. i don't rank high enough on the food chain to be covering up accidents.
I feel for the guy. he probably would have loved to have just let it go with a quick exchange of cash but was bound by a desire to stay employed.

hey, is no one going to piss and moan about the fact that you were drinking and driving????

hope the rest of your trip turned out alright.

Keith

 
At 7:45 AM, Blogger White Dade said...

I want to address one thing here: Yes, I took a swig of rum before I went to breakfast. But even if the cop had been Johnny Diligence and given me the breathalizer when he showed up, I would have blown a whopping .03 (or similar) as 1 shot of rum doesn't register real high on a 210-pound male. And since nobody could prove (and noone is fingerprinting a Stroh's can in a fender-bender) that the stuff in the garbage was mine, there was really no way to prove an alcohol-related violation. And that accident was not a result of drunk-driving. Bad driving, yes, but not drunk driving. I just mentioned that as a sort of icing on the cake of the whole incident.

 
At 11:42 AM, Blogger jaded city said...

in the south, and sometimes in brooklyn, being white is like having a superpower.

what's also good is that sometimes you can use your superpower to help others.

 
At 1:24 PM, Anonymous J said...

A few clarifications:

One swig of rum at 10:30 am, 11:30 EST before a 1pm wedding in the SOUTH isn't drunk, hell its nearly socially expected AND legal.

Beer cans were from the day before.

Van left the scene with very tiny, short red scratch. EASILY fixed and if it wasn't a work vehicle the man would have come out hundreds of dollars ahead. In comparison, our bumper was falling off, the side was dented, and the side-view mirror was scattered all over the road.

While his attitude may have been significantly differed and there was certainly unequal treatment, this wasn't Alabama circa 1960.

 
At 3:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Dade,

I wasn't trying to start the drinking and driving debate. I've been witness to worse cases than that. I was just failing miserably at being a smart ass.
There wasn't anything in your story that would have suggested you were over the limit or anything (which is why i should have shut my yap in the first place i suppose).

I'll get back to work....

Keith

 
At 4:45 PM, Anonymous Johnson said...

Well I guess being a black guy, I should comment on the racism thing or say something socially conscious but that just aint Matt Johnson's style. What I really want to know is who took the picture of the Strohs Tower and can you email me a full sized copy of it? Also, how'd you guys enjoy the Zanotti wedding mix?

 
At 6:23 PM, Blogger White Dade said...

Jaded - Yes, you can. But not when it would involve getting yourself a possible DUI

J - Yes, I sustained the bulk of the damage. SO I guess you could say Karma got me

Keith - You never need to apologize to me. I welcome criticism

Johnson - Eh.

 
At 9:42 AM, Blogger jaded city said...

damn I wasnt suggesting you help that guy, or get a dui, just making a comment on racial inequality.

 
At 12:59 PM, Blogger White Dade said...

Johnson -That Eh was in regards to the actual wedding. The mix was spectacular

JC - I know. This is what happens when you try and reply to everybody, you inevitably inadvertantly ofend someone. No offense meant. Hopefully none taken.

 
At 3:14 PM, Anonymous Ted said...

I think this one has more to do with you sustaining all the vehicle damage and the cop not wanting to do the paperwork rather than rascism. You are jumping to a racist conclusion about the south when it seems you haven't spent that much time there to know what you are talking about. We aren't trapped in the 1950's and rascism is as prevalent in New York City as it is Mobile, Alabama.

 

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