While driving home with my daughter late one night over the holidays, we were stopped by a police officer. My daughter had fallen asleep while driving, but was awakened by the lights and sirens of the police car. She immediately became scared and started sobbing in the back seat. I assured her as best I could, without wanting to make any sudden movements. I turned to her slowly, and as I did the officer turned on his high beam lights, blinding me and forcing me to turn back around. My daughter began sobbing even harder.
The officer approached and banged on the window. I rolled down the window as he firmly demanded my license, registration, and insurance. My daughter begins to cry harder, though I could hear her trying to soothe herself and calm herself down. The officer shined his bright light into the backseat, at which time her crying overtook her attempts to self-soothe. I fumbled through the sunglass cases and endless supply of emergency napkins in the glove compartment looking for my documents. I asked the officer why I was pulled over, to which he forcefully retorted, “I’ll tell you when you provide me some documentation. Hurry up. It’s cold out here.”
After a few minutes I found the documents. He snatched them from my hand and walked away, still not revealing the reason for the stop. My daughter is now frightened and crying hysterically, “Mommie, what is going on? Are we in trouble? What did we do?” At this point I have no answers for her, so all that I can do is hold her hand.
The officer comes back while I am trying to assure my daughter that everything will be alright. He tells me I’m receiving a ticket for an unregistered vehicle and reprimands me saying that I’m lucky that he doesn’t have my car towed instead. I try to speak, but he interrupts and then lectures me about how even though it must be hard living in Newark and making ends meet I still have to be responsible and prioritize registering my car and having the proper documents. After being further humiliated for a few more minutes he walks away.
After that moment I wanted to cry I was so embarrassed. The officer sees a black woman and her child driving with an expired registration and the only conceivable explanation was that it was obvious I must be a struggling inner-city single mother. I couldn’t show my daughter how angry I was at the incident. I held her hand as she cried herself back to sleep.
When we finally reached our home and she was calm after her nap, I asked her why she was so traumatized and hysterical. She replied that she heard a story of a woman driving her car who was pulled over by a white policeman and was arrested and taken to jail where she died. My heart broke.
In no moment has it ever been clearer that I am Sandra Bland.
by: Portia Allen-Kyle