It was shortly before Christmas in Washington, D.C., a Saturday night In the early 2000s. I had been invited to a neighborhood Christmas party on my Capitol Hill street. As it happened, afterward I was scheduled to go out to dinner with a neighbor and her two house guests, a couple visiting from Chicago, at a downtown restaurant. Shortly before the party was to begin I received a phone call from the clearly anxious party hostess. She had ordered liquor from a store on the other side of the Hill and the store had just called to say their delivery man was ill and she would have to pick it up herself. Alas, the hostess did not have a car. So she asked if I would go pick up the liquor, already paid for.
No problem, said I. At this point my neighbor with the house guests suggested that the husband of the visiting couple — Jim was his name — go with me and that we take her car. No problem again. So very shortly the two of us — Jim from Chicago and myself — were in my neighbor’s car headed across Capitol Hill for the liquor store, Jim doing the driving and me doing the directing. It was already dark and a light rain was falling. We arrived at the liquor store and picked up the delivery, a box filled with hard liquor and wine. It was placed on the back seat and we were quickly on our way back to the neighborhood. Somewhere along Pennsylvania Avenue, Jim noticed that we were being trailed by a D.C. police car. We reached the bottom of my short one-way residential street and just as we were about to make the turn the lights on the police car started flashing. Jim pulled the car over immediately, effectively blocking the entrance to my street.
What was this? Jim had not been speeding, neither he nor I had been drinking. What was the problem?
Two police officers approached the car on each side. The one on Jim’s side asked to see his license and asked for the registration. Having no idea where it was I started to look in the glove compartment. The cop noticed that Jim’s license was an Illinois driver’s license. “Is this your car?” came the question. “No” came the answer. The officer on my side asked me to roll down my window. I did so. Finding the registration and handing it over I began to explain. This was my neighbor’s car, she lived — I pointed — at the top of this street on the left side. She was there right now with Jim’s wife, waiting for us. All that had to be done was talk to her if there was a problem. The command came from the cop on my side to be quiet. He wasn’t kidding either. The tone was sharp. Now I was exasperated. What was this all about? This car was stolen, Jim and I were told. No, said I, it was not stolen. I began to explain again and this time the cop had had it. “Please step out of the car.” It was raining. I was dressed casually but for a party and a night out. “Officer,” said I, exasperation in my voice, “all you have to do is go to that house right up there and…” The command again to be quiet and “Step out of the car.” At this point Jim had reached his own stage of exasperation — with me. “Shut up Jeff!” I opened the door and got out, as did Jim. We were ushered to the back of the car. Another police car arrived, and another, the latter barreling down my one-way street with lights flashing.
Jim and I were now spread-eagled against the trunk, arms and legs wide, hands on the trunk. There was radio chatter. We were getting wet. This went on — and on — for five or ten minutes. Suddenly the attitude changed. In a blink we were given an apology and told we could go. It seems that the VIN — Vehicle Identification Number — did not match the one on the stolen vehicle. The suggestion was made to tell the car owner to get a new car — or this could happen again. Incredulous and wet, Jim and I got back in and drove the few hundred feet to my neighbor’s house. The liquor was delivered, I dried off and the evening proceeded with holiday cheer.
Why tell this story?
As the Obama White House holds meetings with “civil rights” leaders to discuss the “break down” between police and residents in communities like Ferguson, my story is a story of two white guys being stopped for supposedly stealing a car — by two white cops. White cops in a city with a black majority and in a well-to-do neighborhood that was racially mixed.
What if I had, as the evidence from the Ferguson Grand Jury clearly shows, struck the white police officer as Michael Brown is known to have struck Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson? What if I had suddenly lunged for that white police officer’s gun? If I had been that utterly stupid, at a minimum I would have been arrested for assault, at a maximum I would have been shot dead on the spot.
This isn’t rocket science. As was clear from the response by the cop when I tried to tell him to check with car’s owner just a few doors away — one does not argue with a cop. Period. My race — and the race of the cops — was irrelevant. They stopped Jim and myself because they thought we were a couple of car thieves.
Could I have raised holy hell afterwards? Sure. In fact, my neighbor the car owner did call the police chief’s office the next day — and was told again: get a new car or this could happen again. She was (justifiably) incensed — and kept her car. But that’s it. No one led outraged rallies against the city’s power structure.
My story came to mind watching National Review’s Rich Lowry on Meet the Press the other day. Rich made the obvious point, which horrified Andrea Mitchell of NBC and Eugene Robinson, the liberal columnist for the Washington Post:
Here’s the transcript:
CHUCK TODD: Rich, what’s interesting when you look at whites, whites that live in urban communities believe that we still have a race problem in this country. Whites that live in more rural, basically whiter communities, they don’t see the race issue. Do you think that’s part of our divide? That maybe rural whites don’t see this issue the way folks that live in urban America?
RICH LOWRY: Perhaps, but you look at Ferguson specifically, this is an area where the governmental structures haven’t caught up to the demographic change over the last two decades or so. And that’s something you take care of simply by organizing and voting. But what I really object to is you can discuss all these problems but let’s not pretend this particular incident was something it wasn’t. If you look at the most credible evidence, the lessons are really basic. Don’t rob a convenience store. Don’t fight a policeman when he stops you and try to take his gun. And when he yells at you to stop with his gun drawn, just stop.
ANDREA MITCHELL (interrupting): Whoa!
The look on Mitchell’s face — and her body language — is almost classic. Robinson, in turn, simply tries to ignore the physical evidence that tells the true tale of a big, aggressive, and arrogant bully foolishly taking on a cop. The fact such basic common sense as Lowry suggests is seen as somehow outrageous tells you all you need to know about the bizarre world in which liberals live. I was stopped by a cop. The cop was white. I am white. The cop told me to stop talking and get my butt out of the car, hands on the car, legs spread wide. After three attempts at an explanation, I did exactly what I was told to do. There was nothing in the least racist about what happened.
Over at Politico, Lowry made the point last week in a piece titled “The Ferguson Fraud”:
The bitter irony of the Michael Brown case is that if he had actually put his hands up and said don’t shoot, he would almost certainly be alive today. His family would have been spared an unspeakable loss, and Ferguson, Missouri wouldn’t have experienced multiple bouts of rioting, including the torching of at least a dozen businesses the night it was announced that Officer Darren Wilson wouldn’t be charged with a crime.…
This is a terrible tragedy. It isn’t a metaphor for police brutality or race repression or anything else, and never was. Aided and abetted by a compliant national media, the Ferguson protesters spun a dishonest or misinformed version of what happened — Michael Brown murdered in cold blood while trying to give up—into a chant (“hands up, don’t shoot”) and then a mini-movement.
When the facts didn’t back their narrative, they dismissed the facts and retreated into paranoid suspicion of the legal system….
Exactly. As my own experience that rainy night in the nation’s capital suggests, when the police tell you to do something — do it. If you don’t — there is trouble. White, black, brown, red or yellow — there is trouble. Period. It isn’t rocket science. Really.