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Living While [Insert Minority]

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January 16, 2011

We've all heard of the condition known as "driving while black:" the idea that as a black person you are more likely to be stopped even if you haven't committed an actual crime. But in today's sensitive and fearful times, being any number of ethnicities can lead to uncomfortable questioning and, on occasion, completely illegal stopping.

That's why the ACLU has put this video together. There isn't a need to panic if you know exactly what to do.

Please note that by playing this clip You Tube and Google will place a long-term cookie on your computer. Please see You Tube's privacy statement on their website and Google's privacy statement on theirs to learn more. To view the ACLU's privacy statement, click here.

I remember being stopped one time as a child — I was about 11 years old. At this tender age I was what the Native-Americans called "a klutz." (Yes, every one uses the word, but it feels more serious if you invoke the "indigenous" peoples of this land.) I had just gotten off the school bus in my neighborhood (which everyone outside of my neighborhood referred to as just "the hood"), and because I was such a scatterbrain, I hadn't actually zipped up my book bag. So upon exiting the school bus in a gentile fashion (read: jumping off the top step and starting to run immediately), all of my books and papers flew all over the place. It was quite embarrassing, so I stuffed as much as I could in my book bag, but all of sudden it seemed not to fit very well. So I put a bunch of papers under my shirt and then held my shirt to my body to carry them the two blocks I had to walk to get to my house.

All of sudden I heard the now infamous "WOP-WOP" sound from a police car that had spotted me walking down the street holding my shirt.

"What are you doing?"

"Uh...Walking home?" It was almost as if I was asking them what the right answer was.

"What do you have under your shirt?"


"Can you show me the papers?"

And then I pulled the crumpled mess from under my shirt as people walked by wondering "What the hell is going on here?" The cops looked and kept driving, but it was a weird feeling to me. It was my first stop by a cop.

I don't mention this as an example of illegally being stopped, but more for the feelings that came from it. When you're stopped by cops, you're scared. You start questioning yourself and the situation around you. You might be angry because there's no reason to have been stopped. Myriad feelings wash over you when being stopped by police officers whether you were to blame or not.

So watch the video, so you'll know what to expect from the officer you're dealing with and knowing your rights. You aren't alone in these situations and if you feel you've been wronged you can call people.

Remember that.

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