Driver's Ed

My son, the new driver, had some news for me the other morning.  He had been out the night before and gotten home long after I had gone to bed.  Bed-time being nine-ish, this happens a lot.  “I got a ticket” he said.  I choked on my coffee.

“What for?”

“Uh, going 80 in a 55 miles per hour zone.”

“WHAT?!”

“Just kidding.  Really, it was for not having a tag light.  And it was just a warning.”  Oh, that breezy teenage manner.

“Tag light?  What the heck is a tag light?”

Turns out the tag light is the light that shines on the license plate.   After going to my car and checking I saw that, in fact, there were two small bulbs above the license plate, each housed in a plastic assembly above and on either side of the license plate.  I screwed open the casings and took out the bulbs.  (All by myself!)  One of them had burned out.  The car is more than 10 years old, and neither bulb had ever been replaced.  How long had it been dark?  Why had neither my husband nor I, who drive the car far more than Asher, ever been stopped?  How would you even notice if one is out, if the other is working?

I have always been fearful of Asher being pulled over by the police.  While most traffic stops are routine, there have been cases where deaf individuals have suffered severe harm at the hands of a police officer during a stop, such as happened to Doug Bahl, who was sprayed with a chemical irritant and yanked from his car, Christopher Ferrel, who was pulled from his car and had his head slammed into the back windshield after reaching for his license, (the video is not captioned, but the act speaks for itself), and Dan Tessien, who was not taken from his car but was pelted with 40 grams of lead shot in bean bags while sitting in his truck shouting “I’m deaf!”

To say nothing of situations that have taken place off road, such as that of Antonio Love, who was pepper sprayed and tasered for staying too long in the bathroom (really!), Esther Valdez and Cici Bermudez, who were assaulted by police officers while walking down the street, and Roger Anthony, who died after being shocked by a police officer’s stun gun while riding his bike.

In all of these cases there was a problem with communication between the police officer and the deaf individual.  Based on what I have read - and the number of times deaf plaintiffs win in lawsuits based on these types of events - it seems that the police could have taken steps to de-escalate the situation, but did not.  Things did not have to end the way they did.  The police expected the individual in question to respond a certain way, and when he didn’t, reacted forcefully when force was not needed.  I quizzed Asher about his experience.  “How did you know it was you he wanted to pull over?  How did he communicate with you?  What did he say?”

From what Asher told me, it all seemed pretty simple.  He had noticed a car behind him but didn’t know it was a police car until he made a turn, then the red lights went on.  He was the only one on the road, so he knew he was the guy.  He pulled right over.  The officer walked up to the car, and Asher told him he was deaf.  The officer asked for his license, registration, and insurance card and told him to step out of the car.  He checked his license and showed him the light (well, lack thereof) and the written warning.  He used some fingerspelled words, gestures, and pointing to communicate.  At the end of everything they both went on their merry way.  There were no communication issues and no problems.  Of course, this happened Frederick, Maryland, where the school for the deaf actually trains the police  on how to interact with people who are deaf.  Next time Asher might not be so lucky.

I gave Asher one of the bulbs, told him to pick up a new one at the auto parts store, and instructed him about what to do if he was stopped again.  Keep your hands in sight.  Don’t make any sudden moves.  If you need to get something from the car check with the officer first.  Don’t look away.  Don’t look nervous.  Be friendly.  Don’t say too much.  Answer all the officer’s questions.  Follow his directions.  Don’t reach into your pockets.  Don’t step forward.  If he tells you to step forward, step forward.  But if he doesn’t, don’t.  Don’t look around.  Keep a pen and paper on the seat next to you.  Make sure you always have your license with you.  Don’t speed.  Use your turn signals.  Always look over your shoulder when changing lanes.  Don’t stay up too late.  Don’t eat too much junk food.  Do your homework.  Pick the right friends.  Floss every day. 

What were the magic instructions that would keep my son safe?

Police officers have a difficult and dangerous job.  Trouble crops up unexpectedly, and they sometimes do have to use force.  We all know this.  As a mother I have to make sure Asher understands how quickly things can spiral out of control and to help him make sure he does not do anything that could be misconstrued as non-compliance or a threat.

And then hope for the best.

Copyright 2012.  Do not reproduce without permission.

 

© Barbara Raimondo 2015