White makes right?
A $735 traffic ticket gave me the perfect excuse to check out the brand spanking new Mills B. Lane Justice Center. It’s complete with colorful tile mosaic floor and more racial diversity than one generally encounters in Reno.
Of the 25 people packed into court to deal with traffic tickets, more than half were people of color: several African American families, a few Hispanics including two who needed a translator and an indigenous couple with kids in tow. Percentage-wise, that’s more minorities than you’d expect from predominantly white Reno.
Purely anecdotal evidence, of course. But profiling might be more than a myth cooked up by the ACLU. Just a guess.
You’re wondering what evil I committed to end up in Reno’s traffic purgatory. Trust me, nothing naughty or dangerous. No speeding or red-light running or drunk driving.
If you do nothing wrong, you’ve no need to fear cops.
It helps to be pale-faced and appear moderately affluent.
After not being pulled over for two decades, I’ve been nabbed twice this spring. Apparently, driving around with an outdated registration sticker is the eighth deadly sin.
I paid registration fees last summer. When my sticker came, I must have tossed it out with junk credit card offers. For nine months, no problem. After paying this year’s registration, I planned to slap the new sticker on without delay.
In the interim, I forgot about it. Genocide and starvation kill hundreds of thousands in Africa. In Pakistan, women are sold as sex slaves. My students come to class looking like stress zombies.
Car registration? Not on my Top 10 Worry List.
The first time, I was pulled over after dropping my son off at school. As I approached a construction zone snaggle, a squad car pulled out. Whirring red lights in my rearview. Bile rose. My chest knotted.
This time a warning, the officer said, grinning jovially. His computer showed that I’d paid my registration.
“Go to the DMV and get a new sticker.”
Amazing grace! I planned a day-long expedition to the DMV but never got around to it.
Two weeks later, I was cruising through downtown to pick up my son, head bouncing to my tunes, elbow flopping out the open window.
The cop spotted me on Lake Street. He followed me, turning at the Bowling Stadium, dogging my rear as I drove up Fourth, checking his computer, which showed that my dues were paid.
And yet. Whirring red lights in my rearview. Bile rose. My chest knotted.
He pulled me over. On West Fourth Street. Guess he couldn’t find any homeless veterans jaywalking or teens loitering.
I was the best he could do—my outdated sticker the city’s worst threat.
“Do you know why I pulled you over?” he asked.
I explained the sticker problem. He asked to see my insurance card. I fumbled through the chaos of my glove box, to no avail. He spotted a rectangle of paper amid the trash that lines my car.
“Is that your insurance card?” he asked. I love a snide cop.
“Nope, movie ticket from Syriana.”
“Yeah, but depressing.”
I love a chatty cop.
So, traffic court. I’m one of the last in and the first out, my fine waived in its entirety, hallelujah.
I will never know what horrors—busted brake light? tailgating? unsignaled lane change?—the others committed to land in traffic court. I felt more than a few sets of eyes on me as I slunk out of the brand spanking new room, my failings forgiven by the mercifully white judicial system.