I’m still shaking — today’s alarming encounter with the UTC police.
After working a 14 hour day full of reopening our new facility, working to interview and hire new people (creating jobs and opportunities), then leaving this evening to take the regular 1.5 mile route from our center to my house. On the way, a guy runs the stop sign, pulls in front of me and we come to a stop side by side. I see him turn left on a road that has closure signs and I proceed ahead.
By Carmen Carson
I notice two UTC police pulling out of my husband’s office parking lot (he works at the State Building on campus) and normally I feel safe with campus police around, but this time, I get that feeling in my gut. I know that I am driving our little white VW bug. I know that I look like the everyday black person. I know that no one is technically on campus right now because of the pandemic. I see them pull behind me.
I continue to drive (I’m literally three blocks on the same road as before from my house). I stop at the stop sign on 8th street and Douglas. I now stopped, watching another UTC police SUV make a u-turn in the the middle of 8th street, driving to face me.
Now I know I am being boxed in. I have one police SUV facing me on 8th street and 2 behind my little VW bug.
I keep my cool, knowing that I am divinely loved, guided, and protected, but I feel fear, knowing that I am here in Chattanooga alone right now. Carson was away caring for dad and I’m two blocks away from my house alone.
I proceed to pass my old dorms (UTC place – yeah I’m an Honor’s College/ Brock Scholar alumni of UTC too). Actually, I’m cool at this point. I think, “maybe they are heading in the same direction” since normally I do see campus police around our house (we live on campus).
I stop again at University Street and 8th. The SUV’s are right on top of me – driving too close – so now I know something is wrong.
I keep going – now one block away – and then they turn on the lights. I immediately turn on my flashers and pull up another 25 yards in front of my neighbor’s house and my house. I call my neighbor, John (who is a lawyer and like family) immediately and ask him to come watch since I am being pulled over. John stays on speaker phone and watches from him window, helping me to stay calm.
<Now, when I left my job, I had my teacher cart where you roll all of your stuff down the hall way out to your car and I put my bag in my trunk with the rest of my stuff. That makes it easier to get to when I pull back into the garage.>
They send the black police to my passenger window (I’m sure that was intentional). I lean over and roll it down. He says, “Do you have your license and registration?” I tell him it is in my bag in the trunk. (He looks puzzled)
Then he tells me that “I’m pulling you over because you ran through the stop on 8th and Douglas.” I said, “No, I didn’t. I stopped completely.” He insists on lying and creating a narrative that I ran through the stop sign. (Mind you, that would be impossible due to the fact that his colleague was making a u-turn at that that intersection in the middle of the road). He then says he will be back.
By this time, my other neighbors – who are also action taking allies- step outside of their condos and begin confronting the police about why there 6 police officers surrounding me with 3 SUV’s all with their lights on. John keeps assuring me everything is ok and that he is watching. I feel comfort, fear, rage, pain, exhausted, and hurt all in the same moment.
The police offer returns with a sticky notepad and pen, asking me again about my license being in the trunk. I affirm that it is in there. Then he asks for my Name and DOB. I give him that and my UTC ID. I point out my lawyer neighbor who is also on the phone with me and watching them “My lawyer is right there and I live right there”. He says, “your lawyer is there?” “Yes.”
He leaves and runs my information.
My ally white neighbors continue to demand answers for why I’m being cornered by so many officers (one of which doesn’t even know that I’m Carson’s wife – he worked with Carson before). I watch all of this in my passenger side mirror. Lights are flashing all around, I’m here in front of my own house on the campus that I attended and the campus that I still serve on being pulled over and accused of something that I did not do. It’s a whole spectacle.
I call Carson, my husband (who also works at UTC), on 3 way to tell him that I have been pulled over. He and John both listen and I sit there. The minutes feel like hours as I wait watching the police trying to figure out how to fix this situation they have gotten themselves in. My neighbors are going off on them. John is monitoring them. They have ran my information and see my spotless record and that I am listed as Faculty for UTC.
After what seemed like 15 minutes, the black officer convenes with his colleagues and then returns to my car. He tells me, “I’m going to let you off on a warning. You are faculty?” He then begins to tell me how they were taking precautions since students will be returning soon and so forth (it all was a blur at that point because I knew they had been caught in their own mess and were trying to figure out how to get out of it). Then he said “I’m sorry about that”.
UM – who apologize for pulling over someone who actually broke the law? NO ONE. Why would you apologize? Oh, because you realized that I’m not just a random person you were trying to profile on campus. Ok.
He says I’m good to go.
He and his colleagues return to their cars. Two of the six them stay to talk to and deescalate my neighbors. The other four drive off.
I park my car and walk to my neighbors. One meets me on the sidewalk hugging me and making sure I am ok. At this point the adrenaline and coolness is starting to wear off, but I hold it together. I thank her and her friends who were so adamant about standing there to make sure that I was not being mistreated. I saw the one police officer that worked with Carson and said hey, you worked with my husband Antoine. He nervously realized who I was and said he hadn’t seen him lately. I tell him how Antoine has had military (army) duty and he has been helping to stay with my dad. I thank my neighbors again and walk away.
I stop by John’s house, fighting the tears and trembles to tell him thank you for everything and then I get in my car. I pull around to the garage, unload everything from the trunk and walk in.
My board president (from my new job) randomly texts “Everything ok??” (she also works at UTC) and I tell her about this incident that has left me shaking here in my house alone. She apologizes, offers to help, recommends that. I reach out to another one of my dear friends at UTC and to others on campus. She is infuriated that I had to go through that (she always has my back – literally the best board president ever) and offers to bring me anything I need.
I then reach out to my dear friend and colleague at UTC to tell her what happened as we have had ongoing conversations about rase, privilege, and such lately. She’s been doing her own share of work around allyship and had checked on me just yesterday. She immediately responds back, then reaches out to her colleagues, and then calls.
At this point, all adrenaline and collectiveness are gone and I break down. I can’t answer calls because I can’t talk without crying. I don’t want to worry Carson since he is with my dad out of town and cannot be here, so I just let I’m know everything is fine and I’m ok. But really I am shaken to my core. I am seeing the lights flashing. I am feeling the fear that adrenaline had on hold. I am flooded with emotions.
How could this happen on the campus I love, in front of my house? How could this happen on the campus that I have worked at for so many years? How could this happen on the campus that I currently serve on advisory boards for?
It happened because I was profiled. It happened because I was targeted. It happened because someone lied about my actions and then realized who I was. What if I didn’t have that faculty ID? What if he continued to persist that his story was true?
I am writing this now – as part of my processing and therapy. I have yet to eat my dinner that I had brought home from work (it’s 10:22). My dad called to check in like he always does and I burst into tears telling him about how I got pulled over and cornered by three UTC police SUV’s. through my tears I tell him not to let Carson know because I don’t want to upset him since he is there.
My dad reminds me that this is part of being black and “at least you are still alive”. He’s right.
He goes on to say, “They could have lied and tried to take you to jail or something. At least you are home and safe now baby. Stop crying, you’re going to be ok”.
I have no words for these feelings, but I do say thank you to my neighbors who were determined to stand with me, to John who legally watched over me, to my board chair and my UTC colleague who both surrounded me with love, and to my COO who checked in on me, offer to come by and sit with me tonight.
I’m ok. I’ll be ok. I’m still crying and processing, but I’ll be good.
I share this to remind you all that this is America. This is the black experience. This is why I worry about my husband driving alone to come home to see me. This is why I’ve led many conversations with new people (who aren’t black) with discussing my husbands 20 years of army service (as it makes us seem like less of a threat as black Americans). This is why our anxiety is through the roof and why many of us, particularly black women, overextend and stress ourselves out, operating at a near perfection mode in most areas of our lives in order to be seen as palpable and to maintain the standards we are held to.
This is why WE ARE TIRED. This is why we kneel. This. is why we will continue to stand. This is why we will continue to show up, call such profiling out, and why I will still show up on my job tomorrow as the badass CEO that I am making a difference for children, staff, parents and creating new opportunities for others.
BUT TONIGHT – I’ll cry. I’ll lament. I’ll try to regain my appetite. I’ll pull myself together.
“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure.[ This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. ” (2 Cor. 4: 7-9)