Apparently, my driving has improved over the years because I haven’t been pulled over by the police for a long time. Still, I remember a particular experience about 25 years ago when I was driving too fast on Aurora Avenue and saw the flashing blue lights in my rearview mirror.

The first thing I thought about as I slowed to a stop was whether my insurance rates would go up if I got a speeding ticket. The police officer came to my window and I handed him my driver’s licence. He studied it, smiled and asked if I was the guy who did political cartoons at the Post-Intelligencer. Apparently, he was a fan.

The result: no ticket and a pleasant encounter that made me feel lucky, if not privileged.

If I were black, I would have had a sharply different feeling about that traffic stop. No matter how calm the situation, fear would have lodged in my gut and I would have been desperate to do every little thing in a manner that would not provoke alarm in the cop that could lead to me getting killed. That is the stark reality of “driving while black” in America.

Two very recent incidents provide outrageous evidence of this phenomenon. In one, Army Lt. Caron Nazario, a black/Latino Army officer in uniform, was stopped, threatened, pepper-sprayed and harangued by two cops in Virginia who had failed to see the temporary auto license in his back window. As is clearly seen in video from the incident, Nazario was thinking through every move to avoid being shot. He survived and is now suing the police department.

Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old mixed-race man driving in a Minneapolis suburb on Sunday night was not as fortunate. He was also not as careful. Pulled over when police failed to see the temporary license on his vehicle, Wright resisted the officer’s orders and one of the cops was so riled up that she pulled out her gun, thinking it was her taser, and shot him dead. Now, the streets of that city are filled with protesters and the police officer is in jail.


The police everywhere have difficult, dangerous jobs — a cop was wounded in a traffic stop in Burleson, Texas, Wednesday morning — but something is terribly wrong when people whose skin color is darker than mine must carry the dread of death at the hand of a cop whenever they drive their hometown streets.

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Corrected: This post was updated to correct the name of the victim.