Exhibit No.1: A little over three weeks ago, a cop named Sean Groubert stopped a black motorist named Levar Jones near Columbia, South Carolina. Maybe you’ve seen the video. Officer Groubert demands to see Jones’ driver’s license. When Jones, who has gotten out of his vehicle, tries to do as he’s told, Groubert shoots him in the hip.
"I'm just getting my license, you said get my license!" Jones cries, falling to the ground. "Why did you shoot me?"
Groubert has since been fired and arrested. He faces one count of assault and battery of “a high and aggravated nature.”
The reason he gave for pulling Jones over (you can hear him say so in the video) was a seat belt violation.
Exhibit No. 2: Last week, in Hammond, Indiana, cops pulled a woman named Lisa Mahone over. This is also caught on video. Mahone, who is black, was driving with her boyfriend, Jamal Jones (no relation to Levar, apart from the color of his skin) in the passenger seat and her daughters in the back. The group was on the way to the hospital to visit Mahone’s gravely ill mother.
Mahone gave the Hammond cops her license, but that wasn’t enough. They wanted Jones’ ID, as well. He didn’t want to comply; the cops insisted. When Jones reached for his backpack, one of the cops smashed the passenger window and shot Jones with a taser.
What was the reason given for pulling Mahone over in the first place? A seat belt violation.
It makes you wonder: Has “seat belt violation” become a new kind of cop code for “driving while black?”
I don’t know about you, but I find it damn difficult to determine whether or not someone in a moving car is wearing a seat belt. I’ve tried it; you should try it, too. Even if the only thing you’re doing is looking to see whether one motorist after another is buckled in, I’d say it’s almost impossible to say so with the kind of certainty called for in order to pull someone over.
My guess is that most seat belt violations are tagged after a driver is pulled over for some other offense.
And no, being black doesn’t count.
Black folks, of course, have been saying that this sort of thing has been going forever. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories.
But if you are white, like I am, these stories have remained just that — stories. I mean I have never been pulled over for a seat belt violation. In fact, when it comes down to it, I can’t say that I know anyone, repeat, anyone (white, that is) who has ever been pulled over for a seat belt violation.
Well, those stories about driving while black aren’t just stories anymore. Thanks to the ubiquity of video cameras, we now are getting to see what we only heard about before. There actually does appear to be a very different America for blacks than the one we whites take for granted.
It looks terrifying.