‘Driving While Black, Queer, And Female’ by C. Imani Williams

Public spaces,  including highways and getting from point A to B safely can be challenging for Black women. I am a fellow activist, Sandra Bland, or any one of the other sisters silenced and wiped away. 

I won’t forget Sandra or her voice. Ever. The continual string of police related murders of Black women, men, boys, and girls have pushed me outside of my comfort zone, and into advocating more actively for positive change — out of necessity for survival. Black people are dying from white supremacy and laws that do not protect us. Whether we’re driving, walking, shopping, visiting the library, or in our own homes, we’re dying. 

When we talk about experiences people have with “Driving While Black or Brown, (DWB),” we generally think of men. My shares speak to the reality that there are incidents that go unreported where Black women are targeted because of race, gender, NGC dress, or perceived sexual orientation. I have helped in the under reporting in the past, by not filing. That is over. Sandra Bland’s courage, along with her murder and the questionable deaths of other Black women, won’t allow me the comfort of silence. 

Not all cops are bad; let me be clear on that. However, good cops who remain silent also contribute to the seemingly never ending push to get Black and Brown bodies into the legal system.  

I have been stopped for being both Black and female, and adding the queer twist to the list is too much for some people. I should note that two of the six times I was pulled over, I was dead wrong.

One stop involved a left-hand turn (not my forte). On another occasion, I was rushing to pick my kids up from daycare after work and earned the speeding ticket. My being late was no excuse to put anyone in danger, including myself.

I began to think about the many interspersed unjustified stops and the link between the stress of driving in a police state and perceived death. For me, silence resulted in feelings of anxiety and helplessness from suffering police abuse and electing to “let it go.” Self questioning nagged, “Why didn’t I do more?”

As a Black woman, I pick my battles letting some incidences of human and civil injustice slide. Though, each time a video from #SandySpeaks graced my timeline I saw a determined sisters face. 

I saw a Black woman who knew her rights, and who came across as confident and strong, believing, justice would prevail. Sandra Bland was about life and living, the world in her hands, a new job, and an action plan for returning to Texas to fight injustice. The character assassination and ad nauseam regarding past mental health issues have nothing to do with being pulled violently from a car, or why she was found hanging in a holding cell. 

The truth remains relevant.

#IamSandraBland. For over 35 years, my attire at times has included African clothing, locs, and a nose ring.  Law enforcement had several labels to slap on me if they chose to do so. My appearance was as far from European as I could muster. Along with my pro-black or militant (depending on who was judging) physical appearance, my car and by proxy the driver (me), were labeled as, Q-U-E-E-R, Super Black, and an individual with an expressed affinity for women.

My rear bumper was riddled with progressive messages, in support of any thing, not white and male. They included stickers on, “Keeping Black Families Together,” LGBT stickers with colorful rainbows, and an array of colorful stickers suggesting, “Women Unite Globally!” I don’t think it too far-fetched to assume that these self indulges which lean strongly towards self-love and pride in who one is moved the cops enough to show me favor.

One particular traffic stop stands out

 On a poorly lit and severely unfamiliar suburban street, I was lost. I made a U-turn into a cul-du- sac to find my bearings. Upon pulling out of the exit, cop lights were in my rear-view. At twelve forty-five in the morning, on a back road, the loudspeaker on the squad car blared the voice at the other end, commanding me to pull over.

I hesitated for a few seconds that felt more like an hour. What if they were not real cops? It was dark and eerily quiet. Would anyone hear my screams if they tried anything? I had read that if you felt unsafe as a woman traveling at night to go to the nearest police station if you think you’re being followed.

I wasn’t being followed, but I wasn’t sure I was safe, either. Besides, that may be a set-aside rule for white women. With the light from the taller officer’s flashlight shining in my face, images of Black women being abused by law enforcement and left to find their way home bloodied and traumatized flashed through my mind.

I certainly feared the possibility of physical attack, including rape, and maybe even, death in those minutes. I felt totally alone in that situation, some police officers lie, and may get extra points when a black woman is involved.

My crime that morning was being in an unlit suburban area, in a vehicle that racist media painted as “hot” for drug dealers. My car was down and mother gifted me her older Pontiac 6000, when she purchased a new one. Neither of us aware, that she was “branding” me when I drove in certain areas. That morning I was lost and when I turned around in the dark and unfamiliar area, the cops were sitting duck for me. They pulled me over, questioned me about where I lived, and what I was doing in the neighborhood of Farmington, a suburb of my hometown of Detroit, Michigan.

They had me walk the line (I was sober), searched my vehicle (inside and trunk), without a warrant. I wanted to challenge them, but decided that may not be the wisest decision given the darkness and not particularly black or queer friendly neighborhood. 

As the officers went through my trunk, I explained that I was staying at a friend’s in the neighborhood who was out of town, while my girlfriend moved out of our place. Geesh, I was going through a breakup and now this! The queer newspapers and boxes of conference materials filling my trunk were left over from a Transgender Youth Conference where I had presented earlier in the day. The officers took care to go through each copy.

Finding nothing but queer gear, they continued to detain me. I was handcuffed in the rear of the squad car for almost thirty minutes as they called in my license. My outfit — in case it matters — was a floor length African Boubou (I was covered from head to toe), shoulder length locs, and a nose piercing. 

The only noise, aside from the police radio feedback, were my bangles shaking as I prayed for a quick exit. Prayer works and thankfully, God kept me from harm. The rear door opened. I didn’t receive a citation when my hands were uncuffed. My license, insurance, and registration were returned and the shorter officer decided to play nice cop, telling me to “Get in safely.”

Out of nowhere, with my dignity assaulted, my voice returned. I wanted badge numbers and the names of commanding officers. The “nice-cop” laughed as if I were joking. Still shaken, I committed the two badge numbers to memory, got in my car, and with them watching to make sure I wasn’t going to double back to retrieve or drop off bundles of dope in my “hot” Pontiac 6000, I found my way back to a main street. I say their names because they matter and because I am, AND WE ARE, Sandra Bland, and we must stand strong to call out injustice and stand strong in Demanding Justice.

Copyright 2019 by C. Imani Williams. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

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