The recent backlash that law enforcement has been receiving in the news media prompted me to write this story. I wanted to share my experience after a recent run in with “the law”.
As a journalist, I try not to form opinions based on empty rhetoric, hearsay or even the media for that much. I try to form opinions based on my own observations and truths, not just by sheer emotion brought on by what we see in the news.
That being said, I felt it was important to show another angle of dealing with the police and how it saved me a world of trouble. As a crime writer I tend to stay neutral when reading or researching a story, seeing both sides of the picture. Hopefully my experience will help someone else who may encounter law enforcement in the future.
Recently, I was coming from dinner with friends and pulled up to a red light on my way home. I must first confess that during dinner I had one margarita to knock the edge off from a long day’s work. Sidenote: if you know me, you know that one single cocktail for me (the self-proclaimed party girl tequila shooter) is like warm-up session so I was not in the least bit drunk or intoxicated. Nonetheless, while sitting at the red light I glanced in my rearview and spotted a cop pulling up to the light about 2 lanes over.
Being a hardworking, tax paying and law abiding citizen still doesn’t ease anxiety when I see a police car, especially with all of the recent bad news in the media and strained history between cops and people of color. I have had run-ins before that were not so pleasant. Immediately I began to tense up and the cop wasn’t even behind me.
Apparently I must have suffered some kind of brain malfunction and before I realized it I had hit the gas accelerating right through the red light. Don’t ask me why, I swear I thought I saw the light change. Or maybe I was hoping it had changed. Maybe I was just nervous, after all I kind of had a reason to be. I was in a part of town where the cops are notoriously accused of racial profiling Blacks and Hispanics. Needless to say I IMMEDIATELY realized that I had just made a huge mistake—RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE POLICE! Instead of continuing, I inched to a stop and started pulling over to the side median because I knew exactly what was about to happen next. Sure enough, I look in my review mirror and the cop car lights are now blaring blue and inching right up to my bumper. I’m cursing myself out. I have an event I had to attend the next day and missing it wasn’t an option. I had no time for traffic stop shenanigans.
The cop gets out and starts walking to my car and I let out an enthusiastic “Hi!” As the officer approached I notice “he” is a “SHE” — a cute white petite female. That definitely knocked a little more of the edge off. I’m girl power first. She approaches my window lets out an enthusiastic “Hello!” Her smile was visible through the blinding blue lights. At least we were off to a good start. In a lighthearted way she says, “You just ran that red light girl!” I began apologizing profusely and told her that I had just left my office after a 10 hour day and that I was completely overcome with exhaustion, which was true. I did skip the mention of the dinner & drinks. That would’ve seemingly been asking for trouble. She empathized with me and then asked for my license which I couldn’t immediately find. As she stood there patiently while I dug around my bag, she offered small talk assuring me that misplaced licenses was a common occurrence in her world. We shared a laugh. I finally dig my license out of the bottom of my purse (aka The Abyss) and hand them over. In the back of my mind hoping there is nothing that could go wrong. No unpaid tickets, etc. I didn’t think so, but you could never be too sure. Dealing with the law is always unpredictable, especially for people of color.
She heads back to her squad car to run my name (terrifying) and I l notice another police car pull up. “OH SHIT, this can’t be good.” I remain calm while clutching my pearls hoping that she didn’t smell a drop of the margarita I had enjoyed about 45 minutes prior and called for some backup. I figured I had to be under the legal alcohol consumption limit and besides, I wasn’t in the least bit “physically or visibly intoxicated” but nonetheless I had in fact enjoyed a drink and then ran a red light—right in front of the cops. Seconds later ANOTHER cop car pulls up. “THREE cop cars? This definitely can’t end well.” Not to mention, all this was my own fault. If I had been paying attention at the light, none of this would have happened. I’m still cursing myself out while remaining calm. Moments later a male officer walks up and begins asking random questions about where I had been and where I was headed, etc.
He was very friendly and cordial. I told him the same as the other officer, I was leaving my office and headed home. That was my story. Despite the huge bag of to-go seafood in my passenger seat, I was coming ‘straight from work.’ The male officer, a very pleasant older white gentleman then hit me with the “Ms. Cavalli, when is the last time you smoked marijuana” question. My eyes bucked out of my head as if I were in complete shock and I replied, “It’s been FOREVER” certainly “not today”. He chuckled and then casually asked if I minded if they ‘took a look’ stating he thought he smelled a faint smell of weed. “OH SHIT! Here we go.” He assured me it would only take a minute and then I’d be on my way. (That’s what they always say before you’re locked up, but I digress.)
I obliged and agreed to a search because again, I didn’t want this traffic stop to go any further left than possible. I’m crossing my t’s and dotting my i’s. I have an event tomorrow and I couldn’t miss it for the world.
I gather my thoughts and step out of the car. He thanks me for being cooperative. The female officer then begins pilfering through my belongings in search of the “ganja.” Sidenote: earlier in the day my mobile car wash guy had been in my car cleaning, he smokes ‘Black N Mild’ cigars (which I had repeatedly asked him not to do in my car but for a free detail who complains). To me Black and Mild cigars smell nothing like top grade marijuana but I mentioned that the cigars “might be the smell” to the officer. It was worth a shot. He agreed, “That’s probably what it is, those cigars do have a sweet smell like sord of like Swisher Sweets”. I blank stare. Meanwhile, the female officer is still searching and I am just praying that there really is no herbs or paraphernalia stuffed anywhere because I would be headed to jail and probably missing my event, which wasn’t an option. I knew how this story ended, it happened before. At this point nothing is impossible. Hopefully nobody accidentally left anything in my car. The moment of truth was upon us.
Flashlight glaring, she searches all four corners of my vehicle and then returns to me with my license in hand and cracks the same vivacious smile. “Have a nice night Ms. Cavalli, I am just going to give you a warning for running the red light, just be careful and go get you some rest.”
WHEW! What a relief! Talk about dodging a bullet! I jumped back in my car and drove off as normal as possible. I really wanted to gun the gas and get the hell out of dodge before she had changed her mind, but I remained cool, calm and collected. The whole time I am pulling away thinking, “Are you kidding me? Did THAT just happen?” I was in complete shock. Not even one mention of alcohol and more importantly, no weed to be found. Not even a ticket for plowing through the red light at a busy intersection. There was certainly a guardian angel watching over me. I couldn’t get my seatbelt on fast enough. I was free to go and GO I did!
In conclusion, I really believe that the way I treated the officers during this encounter is how they treated me—with respect. As with life you give what you want to get. Treating people how you want to be treated is essential, especially when dealing with authority. Being loud, unruly and belligerent probably won’t get you anywhere but a trip to jail or far worse, a bullet or two –or ten! From the moment the female officer walked up I was respectful, friendly and co-operative and gave her no reason to get nervous, hostile or aggressive with me—and she most certainly didn’t. Even though I was in the wrong, she and her fellow officers handled me with the upmost respect and care and I was pleasantly surprised by how nice they genuinely were.
In that moment I realized that all cops aren’t like bad guys that we see in the media. Some do have a heart and compassion. Being a police officer has got to be one of the toughest jobs out there, but the stigma of blacks being treated unfairly, profiled, abused or even killed by cops is very real. As with Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray and many others who have died in the care of law enforcement, we see that things can go left in a moment’s notice and potentially turn fatal. The key is to KEEP CALM, relax and do what they ask. It won’t curve anxiety but it will help diffuse an already tense situation. Dealing with police is hardly ever enjoyable, but keeping calm can at least save you from a world of other troubles.
Sure, as with any profession there are ‘good and bad’ but thankfully this time, I had encountered some of the good, and after a long demanding day, I appreciated it. Not just because I had escaped an expensive ass ticket or possibly even jail, but because it restored some of my faith in some police officers and the job that they do. In the end I was able to make it home in a timely manner and get packed. After all, I had an early morning flight to catch and I couldn’t miss it for the world. I had an event to attend and I made it—with my pearls and bells on.