All the cops in the doughnut shops say way-oh, way-oh ...
— The Bangles
I got a traffic ticket this week, the first in a long time and the first ever from an Albany Police Department officer.
My offense? Stop sign violation, or as the officer who gave me the ticket explained, “You did not re-establish your stop after the car in front of you pulled out into traffic.”
I’m sure the officer, a very thorough and very professional young lady, thought I was some kind of loony because I was absolutely flabbergasted to have been pulled over. As I explained to her — nicely and respectfully — I’m very cautious about stop signs since I recently saw a driver in front of me pulled over for executing what we’ve always called a rolling stop.
I genuinely was surprised, though, and I told the officer I thought she was mistaken because of my usual caution. I even asked her who I needed to contact if I intended to challenge the ticket. She politely explained the procedure.
Typically, I spent most of the rest of the day being mad about getting the ticket. I ended up telling several people about it during conversations, something else that’s typical. That old misery loves company thing.
Here are some of the responses I got: Yep, the city needs money, so they’ve got the cops out writing ticky-tack tickets to bring in more funds. ... Do you know anyone who can fix it? ... Yeah, they can stop a law-abiding citizen for some little something like that, but do you ever hear about them hunting down and catching real criminals?
And, there was this one: Are you surprised? Who do you think the Albany Police Department is going to ticket ... white men? It’s their payback.
I mean, wow, that’s not what I expected when I shared my misfortune.
All those comments were still on my mind when I had a late-evening conversation with musician/businessman Evan Barber, a guy I’ve really grown to like. He told me he was coming home from Valdosta recently and got stopped early, early in the morning in Doerun. Evan chuckled wistfully and said, “As many times as I ride through there, to have gotten only one ticket is pretty good. I figure I’ve been lucky so far and it was just my turn.”
Later, when I was thinking about all the comments I’d gotten about my misadventure, it hit me that Evan, though the youngest of the people I’d sought commiseration from, had made the most sense. His response was probably the most mature; definitely the least mean-spirited.
If someone had asked me five minutes after the APD officer stopped me if I’d come to a complete stop at the stop sign, I’d probably would have sworn that I had. But then, I reasoned after thinking a little less passionately, why would she have stopped me if I hadn’t done what she said?
Which led to another line of thinking: We pay these police officers squat, ask them to go out there every day and put their lives on the line — to serve and protect us — and then when their job inconveniences us, we gripe. And we make derogatory comments about them. On the other hand, if we’re victims of a crime or are involved in an accident, we don’t hesitate to call on them, to demand even that they be there for us.
So I’ll pay my fine. Like my buddy Evan said, “It was my time.” But I won’t perpetuate any of that racist profiling or fundraising or cops in the doughnut shops crap. Not for people who do their jobs each day with targets on their backs ... and get paid less than people involved in far less treacherous trade ... like writing articles for a newspaper, for instance.
Email Carlton Fletcher at