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Live Hard or Live Smart

I made a late-night trip to Prairie View A&M University to drop off my son’s room keys that he had forgotten at home. We discovered the keys were missing just as we pulled onto Sandra Bland Drive, the new name of the street leading into Prairie View. After finding out that there is a no re-issue policy of keys from the administrative offices, I knew I was going to have to drive all the way home, pick up the keys, and drive back to Prairie View so he could have his keys that night. My wife rode back down with me to take the keys back.

After dropping off the keys to my son, we went a couple of exits south and stopped at Bucee’s to get gas and refreshments. After the stop, we pulled back onto the freeway and were on our way back. I noticed that we passed a police car as we entered the freeway. After pulling onto the freeway, I got up to the speed limit and set my cruise control “at” the speed limit. I didn’t want any problems because we were in Waller County, the county where Sandra Bland was arrested and in whose county jail she had allegedly taken her own life.

You could imagine my anger when I looked up and noticed police lights going behind me. I was very angry. I had just set my cruise control at the speed limit. I was angry because I felt like I was being stopped for something other than a speeding infraction. I was fuming mad; something I don’t normally experience, certainly during a traffic stop. I pulled over, let down my window and got out my insurance, registration, and license before the officer came up.

I looked over and noticed it was a Hispanic officer. His ethnicity didn’t matter. I was still mad. He looked into the car and I gave him my license and insurance. He looked at them and gave them back to me.

“Did you just stop at Bucee’s sir?” he asked.

“Yes I did,” I answered with attitude.

“Would you step out of the car sir?” he asked.

“Here we go,” I thought to myself. I got out of the car. I walked around the car only to discover that after I got gas I had forgotten to take the pump out and put it back into the stand. It was late at night and I was very tired. I had pulled the pump and the hose from Bucees’s with my car when I had driven off and the pump and the hose were still hanging out of my gas tank!

The officer and I started laughing. “Let’s go back and drop it off,” he said. I got back into my car, he followed me back to Bucee’s and got someone to come out and re-attach the pump and the hose. We laughed again, and this time we shook hands. He wished my wife and I a safe trip back to Dallas.

I drove away thinking about my actions. I was seething angry when I was stopped. I had overreacted in this situation. I immediately remembered the rule I had given my son many times before. I would tell him, “I’ll take you being home and alive over being dead and right – every time. We can always go back, get a badge number and file a complaint, but I always want to you home safe. You are not a punk if you comply with and obey an officer. Quite the contrary, you are smart.” I realized I had broken my own rule. But I was thankful it hadn’t turned out any other way.

It’s tough. How do you live - hard or smart? It’s a decision every man, particularly every black man, has to make at some point in their life. I was reminded that I still have to make better choices. I’ve been stopped so many times that I feel I know how to handle myself in those situations, but I was reminded that I, in the moment, could have brought about a much less than ideal outcome.

God help me to keep my cool the next time I get stopped. Having a chip on my shoulder, though justified in my mind, is not a good place to start. I should have kept my head and worked to de-escalate the situation. It is always better to be safe than sorry. I want to be safe and home over being dead and right. My family needs me – and I want to be here for and with them as long as I can.

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