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My Mother, Stopped for Driving While Black

| August 7, 2016

driving while black

Color-coded. (© FlaglerLive)

Milen Mehari

When the police pulled their guns on my mother, I reached for my phone and told her to be calm and do as they say.


My parents and I had just been swarmed by police cars, sirens blaring, as we drove on I-64 through Virginia. Shock and fear consumed my family as we came to a stop and were ordered out of the vehicle at gun point. A third car even showed up to stop traffic.

The officers then arrested my mother without any explanation. I felt helpless.

As I questioned the police about why they stopped us, a family of three just driving along and minding our own business, a passing white motorist stopped his car. He gave the police officers a thumbs-up and told them, “We support the great job you’re doing.”

I was stunned.

My parents sought asylum in the United States from Eritrea many years ago. We work hard and obey the rules. But that’s not enough. In a sad twist of fate, our family has stumbled into institutional injustice in a new form.

Milen Mehari

Milen Mehari

Eventually the arresting officer accused my mother both of going too slow and eluding his siren for 10 miles. Three police cars, guns, and handcuffs for my middle-aged mom, apparently for going too slow on a highway. Being too cautious seems to be yet another thing that can get you stopped for driving while black.

Two weeks later, police in Minnesota stopped Philando Castile for an alleged broken taillight. When Castile reached for his identification, he carefully told the cop his every move. To avoid any wrong assumptions, he explained that he had a license to carry a concealed weapon, which he had in the car.

Castile was then shot several times and killed. What was his crime? Is a broken taillight a reason to be shot? Is driving too slow a reason to be handcuffed at gunpoint, surrounded by three cop cars?

The mistreatment of black people by police officers isn’t new, nor is it surprising. According to the Justice Department, black people are almost four times more likely than whites to experience the use of force during police encounters.

other-wordsBefore Castile’s slaying by the St. Anthony Police Department, he’d been stopped by police over 50 times and acquired thousands of dollars in fines and fees. Castile’s mother had encouraged her son to complain about the police’s racial profiling. But like many black people, Castile chose not to.

Why bother reporting police harassment, they reason, to the very people who commit the assault?

During our eight-hour drive to Alleghany County Court, I remember being so confident that the judge would be on my mother’s side. The police had no evidence at all, and they’d plainly exposed my family to unnecessary emotional and financial hardship. Surely, the judge would see that.

I was wrong. Not only was my mother found guilty of both counts, they also revoked her driver’s license. Our lawyer refused to press our case, demurring, “I’m not in the business of suing police officers.”

We are but one of thousands of black families in America who are targeted, profiled, fined, incarcerated, and — as we saw with Castile — sometimes killed by unaccountable police officers and a justice system that supports them.

The American dream can’t be a reality if the very color of our skin makes us criminals in the eyes of the law.

Milen Mehari is a Next Leader at the Institute for Policy Studies, where she researches the criminalization of race and poverty. 

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29 Responses for “My Mother, Stopped for Driving While Black”

  1. Back to back says:

    Wow! I didn’t know Milen Mehari was there when Castro was shot! That’s awesome news. Sure wish that the public was made aware of this a long time ago. Haha crazy how no one knew there was a uninvolved third party in the car…

  2. My2Cents says:

    The very sad part is, that this story will not change the minds of the very people who commit these sorts of “injustices”. The people I speak of are the police officers that profile, and that motorist who had absolutely NO IDEA what was going on. This absolutely should NOT have happened, but thank God no one was killed!

  3. Geezer says:

    Attention to all people with less than milky complexions:

    For now I recommend wearing pocket protectors, and the ability to
    speak like a nerd when stopped by the police. Put a Stephen Hawking
    bumper sticker on your car. Keep a Carl Sagan book on the passenger seat.
    Just don’t reach for it suddenly. Get a seventies-vintage Plymouth Valiant
    four-door sedan. Wear plaid shorts and black plastic framed eyeglasses with
    a band-aid applied strategically on the nose bridge, or conversely on one of
    the hinges.

    Get a cheap pair of penny loafers with a few pair argyle socks.

    This will minimize the time that you’re stopped, and will yield you a sympathetic
    warning instead of a ticket. Use big words…and sound like Jim Nabors if possible.

    It is best to prepare–I always say….

  4. retired says:

    If the police have to follow you for10 miles with lights and sirens, you’re darn right you’re going to jail. Second, interstates have signs with a minimum speed. Finally, a scientifically proven clue for a person who is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is to drive 10 MPH or more below the posted speed limit.

    I guess it’s just easier for you to blame it on skin color.

  5. patriotism is alive says:

    Okay so what was the reason for the failure to stop for 10 miles? I’m sure the Virginia authorities have something better to than to single out a black middle aged women just based on her skin color.
    I encourage the reporting of any encounter that isn’t professional but be prepared for the legal backlash if the reporting parties’ accusations are false.

  6. Outsider says:

    This is a fantastic story. I’d love to hear the other side of it.

  7. ScotchRox says:

    [quote]Eventually the arresting officer accused my mother both of going too slow and eluding his siren for 10 miles[/quote]

    She was arrested for evading the police for 10 miles. Her speed has no bearing on this at all…

  8. John F. Pollinger says:

    A story plucked from the internet without question. I read and re-read her alleged account. She never gives a date and time, nor does she identify the agency. She states a third police car pulled up to stop traffic yet a few lines later in the story states, “a passing white motorist stopped his car. He gave the police officers a thumbs-up and told them, “We support the great job you’re doing.” If the police car stopped all traffic, how was that possible? She also stated in the first part of the article, “When the police pulled their guns on my mother, I reached for my phone and told her to be calm and do as they say.” Why didn’t she record any of this? She claims her mother was convicted on “both counts” and lost her license. Both counts of what? Driving too slow? I can’t force anyone loosing their license for such an infraction. She goes on to claim, “Our lawyer refused to press our case, demurring, “I’m not in the business of suing police officers.” Given her background as a “Next Leader at the Institute for Policy Studies” which I researched as well, her claim of having a lawyer at her disposal that weak is dubious as well. Nice story…..no facts, no question as to validity, yet it’s posted anyway coupled with an entirely different case unrelated to hers as if to bolster her alleged encounter. Pierre, it would have been nice to see you take issue with some of these “facts” the way you do with other stories or interviews. In this case, I’m not buying it.

  9. Angry Man says:

    It’s sad to see idiots make fun of the tragedies that are going on in our communities. Being ignorant makes you a part of the problem and not of the solution.

  10. Albert Crisera says:

    Your mother wasn’t pulled over for being black. Driving too slow is suspicious behavior, and failing to yield to a police car with lights and sirens for 10 miles is a crime.

  11. Mark says:

    A little light on specifics. Sounds like something is missing. I’m sure you were’ impeding the flow of traffic or anything. Or not responding to visual and sound warnings to pull over and stop. Nope, just ignoring the world around you.

  12. palmcoaster says:

    Just plain unfair and shameful that innocent citizens are treated by “some in law enforcement” in such a way just because the color of their skin and bigots out there support them.

  13. Brian says:

    Yep, Milen, you’re right – blacks are four times more likely than whites to experience the use of force during police encounters. It is because they are ten times more likely to challenge, threaten, defy, or confront the officer in some manner. From 2000 to 2012 60% of all cop killers were black, even though they are only 13.5% of the population. Think that a policeman who wants to go home to his family after his shift might have that little statistic in the back of his mind? But, hey, don’t be too discouraged! Your current president and the crooked liar whom he wishes to replace him are both anti-police, as well as many of their followers, so don’t feel too alone.

  14. Common Sense says:

    Would it have happened if the driver was a white woman? Guns drawn? Arrested?

  15. daveT says:

    Would love to read the actual police report since this “story” is from the daughters side ONLY. And she never mentioned her mothers name, so doing a search for that turns up nothing. If a police has its flashing lights on and he is right on your bumper you need to freaking stop. I could careless about the “blacks are more likely to get stopped”. Have you ever considered that maybe just maybe blacks are not that great at following the rules of the road and fail to keep their cars or trucks operational ( tail lights tags etc..) If this woman would have pulled over when the lights came on, this woman might be traveling on her merry way. But stupidity rules again,.

  16. Born and Raised Here says:

    Driving to slow on an Interstate is a hazard to other motorist. In Florida you’re suppose to be in the far right lane. She must have been driving under the minimum speed limit of 40 mph.

  17. Jackie says:

    Sorry to burst your bubble but this happens to white people too. I am sorry that you were pulled over for no reason, happened to many white friends of mine. My brother is as white as snow and was beaten to a bloody pulp WHILE HANDCUFFED by cops in NYC, was not doing anything wrong at the time. When I was a teenager I watched a group of detectives beat my WHITE friend almost to death. If these things NEVER EVER happened to white people then I would understand what this lady is trying to say, but it does and it happens a lot. So really what is the point of this article? To stir up trouble?

  18. Knightwatch says:

    There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that Blacks are stopped by police at a disproportionate rate. Far too many law enforcement officers stereotype people of color or are outright racist. It has to stop through better recruiting/screening, better training and continuous black and blue dialogue.

  19. David Schaefer says:

    Stupid is as Stupid does period.

  20. Nancy N says:

    DaveT, your comment screams of racism and white privilege. Have you not ever read the accounts of congress people, judges, and other black people who have achieved great status and success in society – yet are repeatedly pulled over by police for non-existent infractions or for being “suspicious”? Why don’t you ask your white senator if he’s been pulled over SEVEN TIMES in the past year while driving, like Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina has been?

  21. Jackie says:

    What black people has this happened to and when? Whites are pulled over just as much, so are hispanics. Asians are not. Is that racism? why aren’t asians pulled over or shot by police? why aren’t dark indian men pulled over by police and shot?? Racism does not exist anymore, black people can do and achieve whatever in the world they want to. It is people like you that keep talking about racism and oppression that keeps black people, especially black youth, in a state of anxiety. Feeling like they cannot be their best because of this invisible force holding them back. Do you see how destructive you are to the black race?

  22. woodchuck says:

    Brain,you nailed it 100%.

  23. Fredrick says:

    Brian, there you go again. Bringing up facts. Liberals hate that!!!!

  24. Sherry says:

    Not to confuse anyone with ACTUAL FACTS and statistics. . . African Americans actually ARE pulled over more often! In addition, whites often have more contraband in their cars. If you are the least bit interested in moving away from a racist point of view and becoming educated on the “reality” in the lives of others, take a moment to read this article from the Washington Post:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/10/27/police-are-searching-black-drivers-more-often-but-finding-more-illegal-stuff-with-white-drivers-2/

  25. Retired Cop Too says:

    You mean to tell me that cops are honest? Milen quoted what the cop said. That doesn’t make it the truth. Give me a break white people who doesn’t have to suffer the same faith! Testilying is very common to win a case or to protect one from being jammed up! This system needs drastic reform and a kinder heart and so does some of you “Good Citizens”.

  26. Retired Cop Too says:

    Do Blacks have to die to prove a point about a legal system out of control? Oh….unfortunately we have tried that.

  27. blondee says:

    This woman was NOT detained for no apparent reason. IF she drove 10 miles while eluding a police vehicle with its siren on, well then that’s a felony and you get arrested. Case closed.

  28. Hmmm says:

    I am “dark skinned “. Me and my family have been pulled over and forced to the ground at gun point on a I95 shoulder by police. Told me they’ll let me know whats going on. Ransacked the car, found nothing, and said i was following the car in front of me to close, which i wasnt. Another time pulled out at gun point, cuffed and thrown in the back of a police car. Ransacked again, found nothing, and said i was originally pulled over for throwing a cigarette out the window. I dont even smoke! Countless times these types of scenarios happened to me. To many to talk about. Even my white friends can vouch. They’ve seen it first hand. Sometimes pulled out the car and questioned, “how we really know each other, and where is the drugs i just sold him”. Some people will never understand, but talk about things they never witnessed and throw numbers around.

  29. Just A Mom says:

    I’m not sure if everyone caught what the author of the article does for a living…”Milen Mehari is a Next Leader at the Institute for Policy Studies, where she researches the criminalization of race and poverty.” BINGO~she’s looking for everything that happens to her to be about the color of her skin, job security. SMH

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