Three years ago a law enforcement officer held me at gunpoint on my way to church.
I had never felt so humiliated and threatened in my life. I’m not ashamed to say I cried after it happened. I was scared for my life.
Driving down a winding back road in rural Alabama, I was running late for church. Naturally, I was driving faster than usual, but this one Sunday morning I crossed paths with a Marshall County Sheriff’s deputy.
To this day, I couldn’t tell you how fast I was going, but it was obviously fast enough for a “blue-light special.”
When the deputy caught up to me, I pulled over. Admittedly, I knew the drill: license, registration and proof of insurance. In college I collected my fair share of speeding citations.
So, knowing what to do — or, so I thought — I squeezed my wallet out of my back pocket and then quickly reached for the glove box to get all my paperwork. I didn’t want to waste any more time than I had to. I remember thinking singing was about to start.
Before I could pop the latch to the glove box, I heard a man’s voice yell, “Put your hands on the steering wheel, now!”
Confused, I looked over to find a pistol outside my passenger-side window. It was pointed toward my body.
He yelled his command again.
I was in shock and felt lifeless, but somehow my hands found their way to the steering wheel, as requested.
Then, with his gun still drawn, he unloaded a barrage of questions.
“Where are you headed? Is this vehicle stolen? Do you know how fast you were going? What’s in the glove box? Do you have a weapon in the vehicle?”
I answered with the truth: “Church; no it’s mine; no, sir, I don’t — I’m just running late; it’s where my insurance and registration is; no, I don’t have anything.”
At that point, a second deputy came to my side of the car and took my drivers license — no weapon drawn. She never asked for my registration papers or proof of insurance.
She studied my license for a moment, then slowly lifted her eyes to study me.
“When you get pulled over, never reach for the glove box or make any sudden movements,” she calmly said. “Just keep your hands visible and don’t do anything until you’re told... When you reached for the glove box so quick, it made us think you might be hiding something or had a weapon.”
“Well, that’s not something they teach us in school,” I wanted to say.
After I told her I understood and apologized for speeding and giving them a scare, the man finally put his gun away.
I was then given a warning and told to have a nice day.
Spoiler: I did not have a nice day.
That was an encounter with law enforcement I’ll never forget. I was struck with fear and furious about the experience, but I learned something. Whenever you encounter law enforcement officers, it’s important to be mindful of your actions and how you present yourself, and you should also be respectful of their commands. Doing so will ensure the safety of all parties involved. Remember: those officers want to make it home, too.
Of course, it all could have been avoided if I didn’t drive too fast.
But I can’t help wondering, what if it were someone else? What if I looked or spoke differently? Then how would I have been treated?
When those questions begin circling my mind, I have to remember not every law enforcement officer is the same, which is a relief, yet a disappointment. I wish all law enforcement officers were the same. I wish they were all respectful of every person. I wish the choice to be violent was always the last resort and brutality a thing of the past.
Maybe, if we continue supporting our local police force and focus on working together, we’ll see that happen one day.
Taylor Beck is the publisher and editor of The Covington News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.