Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A police stop story that might surprise you

It's Kaepernick Week for the Bucs.

And a lot of things are running through my head.

I don't know the first thing about law enforcement. I know less about what it is to be African-American.

But I know what it's like to hear black men talk about coaching their sons and grandsons to keep their hands on the wheel if they ever get pulled over.

And I remember this story from a man I know.

He is 61. He is black. His story is 25 years old, but it seems fresh and relevant.

This isn't a crusade. It's just a story a man told me. It's just something running through my head.

The man was working in Kansas City, Mo. A good job. Respected. Soft-spoken. Deep faith.

His boss was working him like crazy. One time, the man didn't leave the office until after 2 in the morning. He headed home. He pulled off the interstate, made two or three turns and headed into a nice neighborhood. His neighborhood.

A police cruiser's lights flashed.

The man said the officer, who was white, told him he had been following for miles. The man asked why he had waited to pull him over.

The man said the officer asked for his ID and saw the man lived in the neighborhood. The officer asked what he did for work.

"I work at the stadium," the man said. That was all. He was annoyed.

He never felt threatened in any way. The officer wasn't belligerent. Neither was the man. He respected authority; his uncle had been an assistant police chief in Detroit.

But he could feel his anger building. The man was convinced — and is to this day — that he was pulled over for driving while black. A black man pulling into a white neighborhood. The mistrust was the problem, he thought. He still thinks that.

Something crossed his mind that night. He thought, "This is what happens to young black men. They go off, and they get shot."

The man said the officer told him he'd cut him a break, a $25 ticket for failure to signal a turn instead of a $75 ticket. The man said no, he'd fight it. The man said a judge reduced the fine to $5. The man said he'd appeal. The judge said a trial date would be set.

Well, the man forgot the trial date. Forgot the summons. Honest mistake.

The man said that six months later, there was a knock at his door. Police. He was arrested, handcuffed in front of his wife and their two young children. At the jail, he sat in the orange suit in a holding cell.

The man thought of his parents, both educators. His mother always told him to do what he believed in but be respectful. His father told him to do what you can but pick your fights.

The man hired a lawyer and went to court. He spent $600 on legal and court fees to erase a $5 fine.

He has come to know a lot of police officers. Two of them are in one of his Bible study groups. He knows their hearts, how much they care and the struggles they face in their jobs.

But he remembers John Carlos and Tommie Smith's Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. He thinks about human rights and doing what you can. There are all kinds of ways to make statements, to help. He thinks Colin Kaepernick has helped. People are talking.

The man who was pulled over that night in Kansas City enjoys a successful career. He is respected. He moved to Tampa Bay two decades ago. Still lives here.

Tony Dungy.

Martin Fennelly is a sports columnist for the Tampa Bay Times. Contact him at [email protected]

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