I Am (the) Suspect

I was pulled over the other day by a Baltimore City police officer, and I saw something I’ve never seen before in a cop’s eyes: fear.

About 30 minutes before I was pulled over, K-Man called me and said his car wouldn’t start. I told him I could leave in five minutes to pick him up. Those five turned to ten, and I felt a little rushed heading out the door to take the detour into the city. I made good time, though, until I got behind this 18-wheeler that just made it impossible to pass. I followed him off the highway and onto one of the city’s major arteries. Still, though, I found myself stuck behind him, unable to get ahead and make up some lost time. When you teach a first-period class, you can’t afford to be late. It’s a big no-no to leave 30 kids unsupervised outside your locked door when that late bell rings…

We finally pulled up to a light where I needed to make a right, and I had just enough room to squeeze by and cut a quick path through the corner gas station. Even as I was doing this, I thought that I better have some reason for being here. I slowed down, looked at the prices on the pumps, and then proceeded to jump back on the road and head toward K-Man’s place.

Not 10 seconds on that road, I saw the flashing lights in my rearview mirror, and I realized that, somehow, that cop was able to get around that big truck, too.

The officer took little time to make it to the side of the Jeep. I rolled down the window, and with both hands on the steering wheel, I turned to look at him.

“Do you know why I pulled you over?”

The Jeep sits high, and in our eye-line, I was looking down at him. It struck me immediately that this was not a normal stop. He looked nervous–even fearful–of this stop, and I realized that there was already suspicion about my motives. I was the suspect, for whatever reason.

“I’m sorry, officer. I don’t know my way around here, and I’m picking up a friend who has some car trouble.”

“License and registration, please.”

I turned on the interior lights so he could see the baby and booster seats behind me.

“I have my license in my left pocket, and my registration is in my glove compartment. I’m going to get them now, in that order.”

I figured this communication couldn’t hurt. I once saw a show about how to survive a pullover, and the number one piece of advice is don’t surprise the officer with any sudden or hidden moves.

“You from around here?” he said.

“No. I’m from Towson.”

In retrospect, I think this might have been the exchange that clinched it for the officer that I was just a bumbling driver and not some runner from the law with a few kilos of white powder sewn into the seams of the boosters in the back seat. Towson’s about 5 miles from where I was pulled over, but to us suburbanites, you might as well ask us to go to Idaho when it comes time to cross that Big City Line.

He looked at the license and registration briefly, then handed them back to me with a relieved, “Drive safely.”

Which, of course, I did do after I pulled away from the curb.

I am suspect, though, that the fear I saw in that officer’s eyes is indicative of the ever-changing job they have to keep us safe. Just a day or two after I was pulled over, another police officer in a county west of Baltimore tried to make the same roadside stop. This time, though, the person he was pulling over took off once the officer left his car, and a chase ensued. Moments later, the officer lost control of his car and ran off the road and into a tree, killing him instantly.

I am suspect that we are all suspects now in the eyes of the police, simply because the chances are higher than ever that the person being pulled over has a crisis or is desperate or is running for one reason or another. It’s not just the police, though, who are suspicious of us. We’re all suspicious of each other, it seems. Within a half-mile from my house, we’ve had several recent incidents of rapes and robberies, and just behind my daughter’s gym, two 17-year-olds were carjacked and kidnapped. The boy was stuffed in the trunk while the girl was raped in the back seat.

There’s desperation and suspicion all around us, and I’m afraid that, in the eyes of those who have dedicated themselves to protect us, we are all suspects. This puts all of us on edge. Given the current economic conditions surrounding us, especially as emotions run as high as the expectations to let the the cash flow a little more freely during the holiday season, we are faced with a different type a challenge: How do we rise above those suspicions to secure the love we want to share openly and freely with all those around us?

To consider insulation as a possibility saddens me greatly, but it might be the best thing we can do at this time. Love the one you’re with, right? Let them all know how special they are, and work hard to solidify that foundation of hope, love, goodness, and faith with those you trust. My guess is that, if enough of us do this, we’ll begin the process of re-establishing those larger communities of love and faith where, to be suspect is no longer the default.

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