Wrestling with Race and Police Power in a Minor Case

The Rude Pundit has been wrestling with something in his brain since he first heard about it yesterday. Mocking Republicans and getting all worked up about Bernie and Hillary can wait until the New Hampshire results. We still have nine more months of that shit until we birth a new president. Instead, let's turn our attention to what seems, at first glance, like another incident of white police officers mistreating a black driver, in this case, a Princeton University professor, Imani Perry. The Rude Pundit wanted to call "bullshit" on Perry, but then his thinking brain started fucking with his animal brain.

Perry wrote about what was a genuinely scary moment: she was pulled over by the police in Princeton, New Jersey, for speeding and then arrested for what she initially said was "for a single parking ticket three years ago." She was handcuffed and put in the back of a squad car, not allowed to contact anyone until she got to the station, and handcuffed to a table while she was being processed in the station. She was also frisked by one of the arresting white male officers. She attributed her "mistreatment" to being black, adding in a Facebook post, "I cannot ever say definitively that this specific mistreatment was a result of race. But I can say that what I experienced was far more likely because my skin is a deep brown, my nose is round, and my hair is coily."

This here blog has been writing about the mistreatment of African Americans by the police when most of the Black Lives Matter protesters were still in elementary school. This here writer has been incredibly harsh on the police and their abuse of power. That doesn't mean that, as a white person, the Rude Pundit can't be called out as "racist" or anything else (he is called that on a regular basis). But when it comes to the way in which cops enact their authority on the bodies of black people, he has squarely allied himself with those African American victims. If you're so inclined, stick with him while he works a couple of things out here. If not, fuck it. Go read something else. Or call him "racist."

'Cause, see, the real reason Perry was arrested wasn't because of a parking ticket. It was because her driver's license was suspended. The law in New Jersey is pretty fucked up this way: if you don't pay even a single parking ticket, your license gets suspended. How do you know this is going to happen? You receive warnings if you don't pay your ticket, like this one:

You get two of those and then you get a letter telling you that your license was suspended. It's easy to overlook these in the stream of daily junk mail, but that's on you.

How does the Rude Pundit know about all this?

Because about 12 years ago, he was pulled over in a small, wealthy town in central New Jersey and arrested for having a suspended driver's license for an unpaid parking ticket. He was frisked on the side of the road, handcuffed and put into the back of a squad car, and handcuffed to a table while he was processed at the station. He couldn't contact anyone until he got to the station. Perry's right: it is fuckin' frightening. He was released when someone arrived to get him, never put in a cell (and neither was Perry), and got a court date. He went before a judge a month or so later, and the judge even looked at the Rude Pundit, baffled, and said, "This is for parking tickets?" To which the Rude Pundit gave a rueful nod. He paid his fine, got his license restored, and has made sure to pay his tickets. Lesson learned.

Perry is very clear that she is not comparing herself to Sandra Bland or other African American women who have died as a result of their treatment in police custody. But, she says, "I hope that this circle of attention will be part of a deeper reckoning with how and why police officers behave the way they do, especially towards those of us whose flesh is dark."

She believes that her "disproportionate policing and punishment" was due to her race. The Princeton police chief disagrees, saying that her treatment was appropriate and that, yes, she was arrested for a suspended license for two unpaid parking tickets. She received the same exact treatment that the Rude Pundit did for the exact same violation of the law. It's a stupid law, yes, and it needs to change, but there it is.


As the Rude Pundit said, he is a white male. He can't even begin to imagine the fear of a black man or woman being arrested by white cops in this age of cases like Freddie Gray and Tanisha Anderson. How could Perry not wonder what might happen to her in the back of that squad car? Why wouldn't she feel panic? Why wouldn't she be outraged?

Yes, strictly by the law, Perry was in the wrong. But she lives, we all live, in this very wrong racial culture where an extra layer of extralegal repression exists. The department chief himself acknowledged this: "We are part of the larger law enforcement community in our current times in law enforcement. Therefore I understand how in this climate we can be perceived to be a microcosm of that." Mistrust is rampant.

In other words, it sucks for everyone in these situations. If we're not gonna do anything about that, then Perry has every reason in the world to be shaken up by what she went through, even if her arrest was legally justified, even if the police did absolutely everything right, even if you want to wave this off on the basis of "Princeton professor."

Perry is being attacked on right-wing websites and in the usual way on social media. But, then again, all of those writers and trolls think the cops did nothing wrong to Eric Garner. So fuck them where they type.

In this world, even when black and white people are treated equally, it is simply not equal.