Driving in Jamaica, especially in the parish of St. Thomas, was never part of the plan. Somehow the idea of driving on the “wrong” side of the road, dodging potholes and competing with drivers trying to pass me on the right and on the left, was just not my “cup of tea.” However, my dad who had grown comfortable with sitting in the passenger seat, had other ideas.
Last Wednesday I was driving with a friend and I got pulled over by the police. Yes, four cops in dark military looking gear, complete with combat boots, ski masks and automatic rifles strapped across their chest. Three, including one female, stood in the background looking menacingly intimidating while the leader of the pack in the foreground, speechlessly motioned me to pull over.
Now, living in the US and being a person of color, there is an unofficial “code of conduct” that my family tries to follow. The code requires that we have our driver’s license and registration ready and placed on the dashboard with hands within sight or on the steering wheel before the cop(s) approaches the car. Some of you might be wondering why, but as people of color this makes perfect sense since too many African Americans, mostly males, have already lost their lives being shot by cops while retrieving their documents from glove compartments and other places.
So of course being pulled over here in Jamaica, that’s the first thing I started doing. Except, I had no driver’s license with me and I had no idea what my dad had done with the documents for the truck. Furthermore, the cop was standing just a few feet away from my window, staring at me with hands on his gun, and had still not uttered a word to me. I was there searching around for almost a minute while the cop just stood there. Finally, my friend said “but he didn’t even tell you what he wanted yet.” So I rolled down my window and asked him “What do you want?.”
It was obvious the cop had already figured we were two harmless women and from the questions he asked, he had also surmised we were not from this country. Short story is, it turned out after a little more searching that I did have my driver’s licenses after all, and he was also only just performing a routine check. He let me go but not before “lecturing me on the “code of conduct” when pulled over in Jamaica. He instructed me the first thing to do when pulled over was to wind all windows down and stay still. He actually told me that he could have shot me and was trained to do so based on all the moving around I was doing while trying to find my driver’s license and the documents for the car.
What he said might have been all posturing and BS, but I couldn’t help thinking about my sons. What if it had been them driving all by themselves here in Jamaica and had gotten pulled over? My guess is, they would have probably done the same thing I did, frantically search for those documents. After all, that is what we have consistently “drilled” into their heads. The bigger question is, would they have looked as harmless as we did to those cops with their big automatic rifles trained to shoot?
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