My son asked if we could pick up a bagel on the way to school in the strip mall around the corner from my building. We’ve lived here for almost five years; this is a familiar routine. After making two rights, I enter the parking lot and habitually pull up right in front of the bagel store, while my son runs in for 90 seconds to get an everything bagel with cream cheese.
I didn’t even have the time to grab my phone before an oversized black SUV, with POLICE written in matte black letters, pulls up next to me.
“Let me see your handicapped badge,” he says.
“Oh shit,” I think. Yes, I’m loitering in a handicapped spot but there are six more empty handicapped spots behind me. It is just before eight in the morning and the lot is mostly empty. I’ve done this hundreds of times.
“I don’t have a handicapped badge,” I answer. “My son just ran in for a minute, he’ll be right out.” I should have ended it there. But I didn’t. “There are plenty of other spots!”
“Yeah there are, so why didn’t you take one of those?”
“I’m not parking here and abandoning my car. I’m just sitting in the car for less than two minutes in an otherwise empty parking lot.”
“Give me your documents.”
I thought the correct term was “license and registration, PLEASE.”
I’m pissed off and slam my glove compartment open, looking for the registration and the insurance. Of course, as I’m flipping through the black canvas bag which holds the car manual I remember the updated insurance cards are still on my deskI (See Procrastination Club.)
I hand him my license and registration. “I don’t have my insurance card on me,” I explain. “This is the old one, but it expired a few days ago and I neglected to put the new one in my wallet, but it’s right upstairs.” I point to my apartment window.
“So no insurance card?”
“No, not on me.”
He goes back to his car, which he leaves in the middle of the entry to the parking lot, unapologetically. Steam begins to puff out, little train whistles from my ears. My son returns to the car and I give him an update.
“Well, you are parked in a handicapped spot,” Mr. Rule Follower retaliates.
“I’m not parked, I’m standing,” I clarify “and I would happily move if someone else even ventured an interest in the handicapped lane.”
I’m exhaling loudly. I think about what I want to say to this cop.
“Really? Am I such a bad person? Am I such a menace to society? Do I drive around with a car full of guns and ammunition? Am I orchestrating a heroine ring on the corner near the high school? I don’t even avoid my taxes. I’m a rule follower, why come after me? Because I’m an easy target; a quick way to fulfill a ticket quota. He knew I wouldn’t yell back or get violent. He racially typecast me in a way too, I was a small white woman, who would “yes, sir” him and bend over and say, “please and thank you.”
As I sat in the car for those three minutes before Officer Parking Lot returned, I felt victimized, a target almost. My heart instantly breaks for every black man in America; he feels one thousand times what I imagined – only for them it’s life or death situation.
The cop returns (after seeing my spotless driving record I presume) and says, “I’m letting you off with a warning this time. Here’s a ticket for not having your insurance card.”
“Do I have to pay?” I ask.
“I don’t think so,” he says, his head down, mumbling his words. I hate him in this moment with such intensity, I wish my eyes were laser beams. “You have to go to court and just show them your valid insurance card.”
“So I have to GO TO COURT?”
“Yes, I believe so.”
He couldn’t even commit to an affirmative answer. He thought he was being generous, I thought he was being a power-hungry dick, giving cops a bad name.