Pulled over for self-expression


Earlier this semester, I was pulled over by an officer with the Stockton Police Department while on my way home from my math course here at Delta College.

I wasn’t speeding. I wasn’t veering in and out of traffic. It was right in front of my East Stockton home.

I sat quietly as he checked me out. He gave no initial indication as to why he pulled me over, until I asked.

“Your rims are too big,” he told me.

My Mercury has 24-inch rims. According to California vehicle codes, rims are considered to be a safety hazard when the wheels stick out past the fender and don’t have any guards.

My car has no such set up. The vehicle code also does not reference wheels, only that they do need to be safe for highway use.

As this encounter concluded, all I could think of was one thing: I had been racially profiled.

As a young African American, being called out because of my race is not a new occurrence to me.

In many instances with local law enforcement, I’ve had problems because I’ve seemingly “fit the profile” of a suspect.

I’m 6-feet tall. I wear baggy clothes. I’m slim built. I’m a black male that takes his dress cues from hip-hop culture.

I’m also a decent student. I’m enrolled in 13-units this semester. I’m not on any kind of probation: academically or disciplinary.

On the most recent stop, I had not committed a crime.

Often, the motive for stopping people is based on a misconception. The officer thought, or perhaps hoped, that I was a drug dealer of some sort or had weapons in the car.

Granted that you don’t see men with business suits on with 24-inch rims, not all minorities with cars like that are up to no good. I was on my way home from school.

The stigma and perception surrounding urban youth, particularly of color, can be fatal.

This happened in the case of 17-year old Treyvon Martin, a Florida teen who was shot and killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. Martin aroused Zimmerman’s suspicion because the teen had a hooded sweatshirt on.

That’s an extreme example. Still it stands, this sort of profiling is dangerous to a free society.

I had a valid license, proof of insurance and current registration. I wasn’t breaking any traffic laws. There was no justifiable reason to pull me over. I felt it was on the grounds of being an African American in a car with big rims.

A car can be an art form, a display of the owner’s individual style.

People should have the right to modify and dress up their vehicle however they want: whether it be big rims or little-tree air fresheners.

What happened to freedom of expression? We all are unique individuals, why can’t the car I drive be unique as well?

Urban youth constantly finds new ways to express their culture, sometimes it’s in the car they drive, sometimes it’s the clothes they wear and sometime it’s the way they behave. It still has a negative light, especially in law enforcement because of its association with gangs and drugs.

Hip-hop is the reflection of real social issues that take place in urban neighborhoods.

Like other facets of life, hip-hop has had an enormous impact on car culture. As young people who grew up in disadvantaged neighborhoods, we’re used to not having much. So when we have something, we flaunt it.

Officers should be pulling people over if they are driving what constitutes an “unsafe vehicle.”

Why aren’t people who have humongous mudslinger tires on their 4×4 trucks being hassled?

I’ve recently spoke to the owner of one of those kinds of trucks. He was a Caucasian male. He said he has never been pulled over for such violations.

“I don’t see why a police officer would do that,” he said.

Unfortunately, I do.