In a state of shock after the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I turned to my Facebook feed, looking for community in my grief and hoping to make sense of what had happened. The statement, “He would not have been shot if he had been white,” referring to Philando Castile, appeared several times. The first time I saw it, I responded, “He would not even have been stopped if he had been white.” Think about it if you are white: how many times have you been pulled over by the police?
I can answer that question: in the United States, only once, and that was because I made a second illegal U-turn at the same stop-lighted intersection as a teenager. The policeman issued me two tickets, stating that he had been willing to let the first offence go. This is what white privilege means.
In Greece, on the other hand, I have been stopped numerous times in road blocks followed by demands to see driving licenses, registration, and proof of insurance. These road blocks tend to occur just before the Christmas and Easter holidays. Locals say that the police are collecting money for their Christmas and Easter bonuses. I always dismissed this as paranoia, but read on.
Today I learned that though he had no criminal record, Philando Castile had been stopped more than fifty times by for minor traffic offenses.
Minnesota police stopped Castile for driving without a muffler. For not having an insurance card. For driving after revocation of his driver’s license, and so on. They accused him of minor traffic issues more than 50 times, one for almost every year of his life.
More than fifty times for Philando Castile? Once, or more than once, for Sandra Bland? Never for the likes of me? What is going on here? Even President Obama has stated that he has been pulled over more than once for “driving while black.”
I have known about the “problem” of “driving while black” for many years. But I had no idea how widespread it was. Fifty times? Revoked drivers’ license? Isn’t that serious? If you watch Judge Judy you will have learned that a drivers’ license can be revoked for failing to appear in court over a minor traffic violation.
According to an email that arrived in my box from Daily Kos, targeting drivers of color for minor traffic violations, while based in racism and racial profiling, is part of a larger problem. Cities and small towns all over America are using traffic tickets to fund local government. According to The National Motorists Association Traffic Tickets Are Big Business:
No one knows how many traffic tickets are actually issued. Many local units of government deliberately hide this information so they don’t have to split their traffic ticket revenue with the state. Not including parking tickets, we can estimate that somewhere between 25 and 50 million traffic tickets are issued each year. Assuming an average ticket cost of $150.00, the total up front profit from tickets ranges from 3.75 to 7.5 billion dollars.
If just half of these tickets result in insurance surcharges (typically at least $300 over a period of three years), you can add another 3.75 to 7.5 billion dollars in profit for insurance companies. This is why insurance companies “care” so much traffic “safety” programs and are willing to donate millions of dollars worth of radar and laser guns to the police. For them, it’s simple: more tickets equal more money!
Most traffic tickets have very little to do highway safety. With this information in mind, it is clear that one small step we can take to save black lives, would be to declare a moratorium on stopping ANYONE for minor traffic violations.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But such a step is not so simple. It would require taking on vested interests not only in local governments, but also in the insurance industry. And of course it would require raising taxes on individuals, businesses, and corporations in order to fund public services, rather than scamming the public and giving the police an opportunity to harass the black community.
Another small step we can take is to sign Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s petition.
Police Officers Who Use Lethal Force Must Be Held Accountable
It is time that we put a system in place to hold police officers accountable for using lethal force and demand a Department of Justice investigation each time an officer shoots and kills a civilian.
It is unacceptable to have a justice system that barely ever prosecutes or convicts police officers who commit murder on the job. And it is unacceptable when a law enforcement official employs an excessive use of force that results in death.
Add your name if you agree that police officers who use lethal force must be held accountable.
These days it is easy to become overwhelmed by despair. Don’t get me started. But we can take small steps. These are only two of the many that are set before us. And who knows, they just might make a difference.
Carol P. Christ is author or editor of eight books in Women and Religion and is one of the Foremothers of the Women’s Spirituality Movement. She leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete in Spring and Fall. This blog is excerpted from Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology, co-written with Judith Plaskow, which will be published on August 1 by Fortress Press. Photo of Carol by Michael Bakas.
21 thoughts on “Dealing with Despair by Carol P. Christ”
Dear Carol, Thank you for this exceedingly well written and important post. The cruelty of the racism, and also the corruption regards the traffic ticketing you mention, is mind-boggling!!
Thank you for giving us a place to sign a petition to hold police accountable for their actions. It terrifies me how much power the police have gained in the US since 9/11. Police violence has been normalized.
Part of our despair – or my own arises out of not feeling that what I do matters. As an “Indian” looking white person (part Passamaquoddy) I have experienced discrimination repeatedly throughout my life. As a five year old I was taunted by the name “princess running water” because I looked different. Later as an adolescent and an adult I was told by others that I was “different.”I remember being at a Jungian Conference about 20 years ago sitting with some presenters, one of which said to another “She’s really different isn’t she?” making this comment as if I wasn’t even sitting there. Racism is alive and well and it’s atrocities are legion.
I was touched, Sara Wright, by your comment on being called Princess Running Water. But I’ve never minded being “different,” as a child or as an adult. And I have some good friends too who have some unusual and amazingly wonderful gifts of background, intellect and perception, and I love them for it.
How lovely to read your kind words… Over the years I have made peace with being different and can sometimes feel how freeing it is… with that much said “difference” singles me out as a target, and that part is hard… We all have these issues and some are worse than others… I celebrate your ‘difference’ and you model a perspective I want to emulate all the time! Thank you for taking the time to respond.
Reblogged this on writingontherim and commented:
This blog post also notes that cities and small towns use traffic tickets for minor violations to fund their governments. Immediately, I thought of a tiny town on the highway from Amarillo to Dallas that rakes in huge amounts of money this way. Then this morning I just read of another incident where police killed a black man who, instead of having a gun as police claimed, had his hands up in the air–from a surveillance camera nearby. The police officers in question had on body cameras–that footage has not yet been released. I am quite sure we will hear more about that one even if it has not been on the national news yet.
I, too, have been ticketed a few times. An illegal left turn (many years ago). Parking. Once was after an asthma attack in my car. I parked in a red zone and went inside for my medicine. I appealed the ticket. They turned down my appeal. Yeah. I guess the city needed that $54.
I find the murder of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge especially disturbing because the man is nearly under a car and the cop is almost kneeling on him. The cop slowly reaches for his gun. Slowly pulls it out of the holster. Slowly shoots Mr. Sterling from less than a foot away. Twice. Why?
….and get rid of the damned guns. US history seems based on the value of war and killing – the Revolution, Civil War, “gun that won the west”, the whole mythology that “progress”, wealth, power, respect, etc., comes from having the biggest and loudest guns. We need more life-giving stories. The twin gods of Guns and Money need to be dethroned.
I read in Network or a non-violence news source that the officer who shot Mr. Castile had been to two other calls prior to that. The first was to a home disturbance where the husband shot himself in the head in front of this wife and children. The second was equally traumatic. He should have been debriefed and cared for. But the system of machismo and abuse didn’t provide that. It just feeds the racism of a very sick society.
And I wonder who is sitting on the sidelines encouraging violence, division, racism, – to increase their power over others and increased wealth.(besides D. Trump, some media, and the NRA)
Looking at it from the North there doesn’t seem to be an easy solution. We have our own problems with racism and need to challenge it where and when it shows it’s ugly face. Thanks for providing some options to do that, Carol. Maybe this can be a turning point for the US to lead the way to a healthier society.
Get rid of all automatic weapons, and no on street carry, open or closed. Are we asking for the moon, in our culture, yes. But Australia did it with stunning results! http://www.reuters.com/article/us-australia-guns-idUSKCN0XP0HG
Please let’s ask for the moon.
That looks like a good link to share on FB. Which I’ll do. Even if only one person changes their mind about gun control – each one adds up. Thanks Carol.
Great job highlighting the financial reliance many local police departments have on fines collected from minor traffic stops and on how these fines are disproportionately assessed on people of color. It goes hand in hand with local police departments using minor traffic offenses to stop people of color in hopes of finding an existing warrant, the smell of marijuana emanating from the car or even just a nervous driver or passenger. From there they can run the license plate and people’s names through their highly sophisticated databases and see their entire traffic, civil and criminal history, which often turns a minor traffic stop into a potentially lethal encounter. In my line of work, we hear horror stories every day from young black juveniles and/or men being stopped on bicycles for not stopping at a light, riding on the sidewalk, or turning without signaling. These stops often lead to felony drug charges or felony resisting arrest charges and off to jail they go. And if they dare flee or run, well, we all now know what could happen.
Hmmmmmm. You can’t pull over and ticket the passengers on a bus or a train. No wonder we have no public transport to speak of.
Towns with aggressive police traffic stop programs used to make the travel guides as “Radar traps” or similar terminology so that auto tourists could avoid them. Now the practice is so universal that it must be assumed to be present at all times. Does this increase income from international tourism? Or only for the foreign based tour companies? Will tour companies regard these practices as sales promotions and subtly support them?
This practice of revenue generation from traffic stops will have one beneficial long-term effect: the relief of overcrowding on the public roadways. We may have the Constitutional right to assemble, but if you can’t afford the trip because of the additional toll fees, disguised as ticket and court charges, you won’t probably associate this as a de facto interference with a basic right. Assembly will be an online event, restricted to those who have the means to connect. Guess who. Wonder how the mini-governments will make their fees on that?
Maybe I’m missing something about the War on Drugs? Without it, how can you support the prison industry and the thousands of well-paid agents of the DEA? As well as providing unquestioned authority over the most outnumbered segments of the population for the local “law enforcement.”
How will the privileged portion of the population cope when the revenue stream as generated racial profiling falls short of filling growing shortfalls resulting from more and more “tax breaks”
How soon will women in general become ensnared in this modern day extraction system? (Remember the “women drivers” jokes?) Women’s economic situation throughout history has rewarded each exploitation system developed down through the ages. Methinks i smell a familiar whiff: it won’t happen to me, because it only happens to Them.
Is anyone familiar with the Found Goddess BOHICA? (Bend Over Here It Comes Again)
Thanks, Carol, especially for the link to Barbara Lee’s petition.
Carol, I enjoyed your thought provoking blog and applaud fir seeing things as they really are. I found your tour by accident and plan to enroll , possibly next year. I have a couple of other trips already booked but would really like to take your tour to Greece. Even more so after your write up. I am retired and have developed and taught diversity programs for a large corporation in my first career. Your programs on feminism and religion really interest me as I wade through this chapter of my life.
I know it is irrelevant, but I am an African Anerican woman who happens to have an African Anerican son that I have been afraid for all of his life when it comes to law enforcement interactions.
Hi Jeri, I try to see things as they really are. Not always successful, but I try. Iit is a discipline not to turn away when you have the privilege to do so.
I am so sorry you have had to go through your life afraid. We need to change policing in the US! This is NOT RIGHT and NOT FAIR and SOMETIMES CRIMINAL!
You can join the email list for Goddess Pilgrimage: email@example.com
See you in Crete!
Next week I try to address the interaction of the Crete tour’s vision with our country’s problems around Black lives.
I anticipate the implementation of unmanned traffic drones within a decade. Traffic stops are dangerous for police (it’s the #1 way cops die) and even *more* dangerous for motorists (especially those of color.) Abolishing in-person traffic stops for minor violations in favor of “automatic” tickets (camera records the infraction, sends the registered owner of the car in question a bill) seems like a logical way to reduce harm. Of course, within two decades all the cars will be self-piloted anyway, and the entire idea of “traffic citations” will be obsolete.
Wow, what a thought-provoking post! I’m 58 and white and I’ve been pulled over by police 5 times, 3 of them in California and 2 in Maine. In California I got 2 minor tickets and one warning. in Maine police pulled me over to tell me I had a headlight out, and probably to check and see if I showed signs of being under the influence. They just gave me warnings to get the light fixed.
I’ve had experience working for law enforcement. When I graduated from CSUN the only job I could get was as a police dispatcher for the small town of Fillmore, in the late 70s. There I was sexually harassed by one officer, with the support of his buddies. I never heard that the money raised from citations went to the town, but I did know that when officers needed to raise their quota of tickets issued they would just stop a vehicle full of Mexican men because there was a high probability that some of them would be undocumented workers that they could arrest then turn over to INS. Even the Mexican-American officers did this. Some of the officers I worked with were good people, but some weren’t. I thought that might be just because it was a small town police dept., but decades later I met my late husband and he was a sheriff’s deputy and told me about some of the terrible things other deputies, both men and women, did.
I’ve also learned a bit about the prison system. My brother is currently in prison in California, serving a sentence of 7 years to life, for a violent offense, that he, of course, claims he didn’t commit. Of course our family is devastated by this and my father has spent a lot of money trying to get my brother’s case overturned, but one of the things that bothers my father the most is that my brother is in prison with “lowlife” minorities. Before I moved my mother here to Maine I would visit her every year and take her to visit my brother. Most of the time the prison officials were polite to everyone visiting prisoners, but one time the driver of a van that picked up a group of visitors took us on a “rough ride” and threw all of us around, including my elderly disabled mother. It was very eye-opening and humiliating. I was afraid to say anything about it because I feared it could cause problems for my brother, but one of the women on the van was involved in an organization for families of inmates and she was outraged at our treatment and said she was going to complain.
Anyway, I agree that we need to ban all assault rifles and make it illegal to carry a gun in public. Law enforcement officers do have a difficult job to do, but we need to do a better job of screening them and make them take cultural sensitivity classes, as well as get rid of any officers who have anger issues, or racial prejudice, instead of covering for them. Thanks so much for addressing this difficult issue, Carol.