Black and white – On race, cops and traffic stops

Some white people think that just because the slaves were freed and the Jim Crow laws were repealed, racism in America is over. Ask almost any black person, however, and they’ll tell you a different story. We middle-class white people live in a different world from most black people, so sometimes it’s hard for us to comprehend why they feel our laws and society in general are discriminatory. My article “Black and white” deals with one small facet of that discrimination: traffic stops.

Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson of Springfield. Photo by Patrick Yeagle.

“Every time you pass a cop car, you’re always looking out your rearview mirror,” he said. “You don’t know if they’re going to pull you over, not because you have something on you or you’re doing something illegal, but because growing up, that’s what we’ve seen, and that’s what was happening to us.”

He says that paranoia creates a feeling of inequality, which is compounded by seeing a traffic courtroom full of people who already live in poverty paying hundreds of dollars in fines and court fees for minor traffic violations.

“You feel like there’s no hope, and it’s mentally damaging,” he said. “You carry that every day. Even now, if I see a cop, I look in the mirror. I hate it, but I do. I see my peers and other people in my culture do the same thing.”

The article didn’t solve any problems by any means, but I hope it gave some white people insight into the frustration that black people deal with in many aspects of life. This is the kind of reporting I enjoy the most; it’s challenging for me and hopefully for the reader, too.


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