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Straight Talk: Driver feeling profiled

By: Lauren Forcella
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Dear Straight Talk: I’m a new driver and was pulled over for something I didn’t do. I was so nervous I hardly defended myself — and when I tried, the officer told me I was wrong. It was my word against his, so I was given a ticket with a huge fine. A friend had a similar experience. It feels like teens are picked on. At 16, people are plenty careful and it’s not fair to “teach us a lesson.” What have other teens experienced? ~ Krystal, Irvine Maureen, 18, Redding: I was pulled over for running a stop sign that I stopped at.  The cop also accused me (wrongly) of being on the phone. He finally believed me about the phone but gave me a warning about the stop sign — which really bugged me because I had stopped fully. Another time, I was in peer court representing a teen pulled over for speeding. Without cause and against his will, the officers had searched his car for weed. They probably figured they could get away with it. Nonetheless, teen drivers are four times more likely than older drivers to crash and it is human nature to profile. Ashley, 23, Auburn: At a park once, a cop stereotyped me and harassed me for smoking pot. I don’t even smoke pot! Another time I was stopped for a burned-out license plate light. The first thing the cop asked was if I had been drinking! At a frozen yogurt place I frequent, the owner is rude to teens and watches me like I’m going to steal something. Sometimes young people are treated like criminals. Hannah, 16, Safford, Ariz.: I was pulled over heading to church with my younger brother. The charge — my brother having his head out the window — was ridiculous. The officer proceeded to ask me questions, saying my car had been parked outside his house. I realized he stopped me for this, not my driving. Evan, 25, Medford, Ore.: Once, walking to school, I received a ticket for failure to yield to a vehicle.  There were no sidewalk and I walked around a car in the street instead of entering someone’s yard. The cop was unbelievably rude and made me sit on my hands. Another time I was waiting to pass a semi when a cop going the other direction flipped a u-turn and pulled me over. I had a perfect driving record but my hair was long and I wore “Top Gun” shades. He wrote me a fat ticket for following a semi too close. Would a businessman have gotten this ticket? Probably not. But we will encounter either saints or donkeys throughout life. We just have to smile and say thank you. One day people will see us as a great group of kids. Katelyn, 16, Huntington Beach: Actually, at 16, most teens are NOT “plenty careful.” However, policemen shouldn’t disrespect you. But if an officer insists you’re wrong, take the hit. They’re the authority. Dear Krystal: Even teens are brainwashed to profile teens! The fact is, most of you are plenty careful. Sure, you don’t stack up against mature drivers, but 2004 data for U.S. teens ages 16-19 show that just 2.4 percent were in accidents, with .02 percent being fatalities. Hardly top-to-bottom carelessness and recklessness. I concede that many unsafe teen drivers are lucky and don’t show up on stats — but even accounting for them, the vast majority of teens drive responsibly. Most don’t speed, don’t text, and don’t drive intoxicated. You are definitely profiled from the few that give your whole lot a bad name. To be pulled over without cause (or feeble cause) — or not given the benefit of the doubt, as in your case — is unfair, unfriendly, creates unnecessary hardship, and takes an emotional toll on society. For more discussion, to ask a question, or inquire about being a youth panelist, visit http://www.straighttalkforteens.com or write POB 963 Fair Oaks, CA 95628. Negative profiling of teens and young adults is widespread, not just by law enforcement but by the general population. Unless adults work with teens, many are afraid of them and consider automatically that most are up to no good. It’s not only unfair, but it creates an environment of hostility and fear, and teaches teens that “the world is not a friendly place.” One of my sons, the kindest soul you’d ever meet, had a ‘fro when he was 17. He was bewildered that women would cross to the other side of the street when they saw him coming. On a flight from Canada he was detained in a private room and searched for drugs because of his hairstyle only. There was no cause, it was strictly profiling. I hope that anyone who recognizes himself or herself while reading this will wait for actual cause before jumping to a conclusion about a young person based on appearance alone — or age alone, in the case of traffic law enforcement. Most teens are kind people looking to adults for cues on how to act. Why not model for them the idea of a friendly and fair world? —Lauren