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Being commissioned to write a column here at Fab 40, I was asked to write topics either political, social, or cultural. The following is a true personal experience, my reaction to it, and my follow-up action. I hope you enjoy it, girls.

July 28, 2009

Venice Gondolier Sun
Venice, Florida 34285

Dear Editor

In the past, my communications to you have been to thank you for publicity given for a project or notable event for writers. Now, I wonder how often folks take the time to laud the Venice Police Department, most especially, an individual Traffic Officer? As a norm, most complain heartily at the sight of those red and blue lights whirling behind them. If I'm honest, I'd be no exception. The most they might receive is a sigh of relief and a weak thank you if it turned out to be a routine safety stop. Yet occasionally, rarely even, it ends up being the high point of your day. I experienced that euphoria this morning. And I do mean euphoria!

I was returning home to Laurel after an appointment at a medical lab in downtown Venice. As seems to be my fate, I'd caught every red light on Tamiami Trail where they converge a mere block apart. Adjusting speed didn't seem to matter an iota. It was my fate, after all. Upon being given the green light approaching the bridge, I noticed clarity of sky, space and lack of another car ahead. And, no more stop lights! On ascending the top, there was a need to stifle the urge to fly up, up and away from it all. Having fasted for a blood draw, I needed coffee! BAD!

Though this need was suppressed, unbeknownst to me, the speedometer had crept up to the fifty-two mph mark, over the designated thirty-five! After exiting the bridge, I noticed a Venice Patrol car pulling out behind me. Oblivious to my wrong doing, I continued on veering to the left turn lane. The officer remained behind me, but no whirling lights came on. They too, pulled in behind me while we waited interminably for the light, yes, it was red, to allow us to turn north. I remember thinking, that poor cop behind me must be losing their patience by now, too! We sat through two lights, causing me to assume someone had come to a full stop before the electric eye had triggered the timer.

Finally, we were turning north! Suddenly, the red and blue lights flashed on. Since we'd just sat motionless for near an eternity and no lights were whirling, I slowed thinking they needed to pass me. They didn't. In my naiveté, it crossed my mind that maybe the officer was sick and needed help! I pulled over, jumped out of the car and started back toward the patrol car! Wrong move! The officer said something, but I couldn't hear with all the road noise and continued to approach her. Again, she repeated, "Please have a seat in your car, ma'am."

Having worked for Law Enforcement in my younger years, it suddenly dawned on me that I'd just committed the cardinal sin in exiting my car! Instantly, I obeyed the lady. As she approached my vehicle, I asked her, "What have I done wrong? You've been right behind me, motionless just like I was! I'm sure I had my turn signal on. I think."

She smiled pleasantly, explained my error, and then requested my drivers license and registration. Not the usual stern face and, almost curt, demand before another word is uttered. Meanwhile, as she peers at my documents, I'm still chattering like a cat-scared squirrel as I always do when confused. The officer chuckled in spite of herself, but said nothing until she informed me that she would be right back. Oh, oh. To the computer and the violation book, she goes. The thought fleeted through my mind that perhaps, she was laughing at my bungling and not with me! So, I waited for my fate and dwelled on the coffee waiting at home. At least, I was innocent of any questionable activities other than my senior moment mind, a love of flight, and a caffeine addiction.

There is, however, a much more profound point in my decision to write this little accounting of my experience. It's been all over the news for the last week; all the hoopla about the black Harvard Professor, Mr. Gates, and the Cambridge Police Department. Prior to that headline, it was the Hispanic Ms. Sotomayor who had to be approved by the white power base, at times at the expense of her dignity. The still-present sore in this country of racial profiling, and the rhetoric of who is and who isn't guilty of reverse racism, was illustrated for me today. You see, the Venice lady police officer who stopped me, a white, war-baby woman, was a black woman with an imposing but dignified stature. She oozed a right to be respected just in her mannerisms and how she performed her duties.

After pondering it for a while, I realize now that she didn't put her whirling lights on at the turn as that would have held up all the traffic behind us. It was proper procedure to allow me to proceed until we reached a place to pull off the road safely.

I'm all too well aware of the municipal and county governments struggling with lost revenues. It's the end of the month, quota time, and I had broken the posted speed limit, intended or not. This officer could have, rightfully so, cited me with a points traffic violation. If anyone had a reason to harbor deep down resentments and reverse profiling tendencies, this woman did.

She chose to treat me as an individual. Judge me on my character as it appeared to her, and treat ME with respect. She was professional while exuding her own character as a pleasant and personable person. With all due respect to law enforcement, this officer was a gem; the epitome of what a police officer should be. Oh yes, I am sure my license tag was run before the lights whirled, as it should have been. Still, her own personal character dictated how I, a good citizen, deserved to be treated.

I've worked with 'cops'. With the possible exception of the State Patrol troopers, this woman commanded more respect from me than any cop ever has before. I was left standing on a street corner in the City of Sarasota following an accident in which my car was loaded on a truck and the man who struck me in the rear, again while waiting motionless at a red light, was cited on the spot for DUI and driving with a revoked license from prior DUI's! The Sarasota Police Officer who handled the accident was a white woman who never bothered to ask if I needed a ride somewhere. She merely slapped a copy of her report in my hand and walked off. Only the Sarasota County Fireman asked if I would like a ride to the emergency room, which I refused. The tow truck driver offered to take me to my ultimate destination when it was obvious I was stranded.

Unfortunately, I didn't notice the officer's last name this Tuesday morning, but her citation book had a label on it saying only "Terry". I'm sure the Venice Police Department will know who was assigned to that area today on the 7-3 shift. There simply could not be two officers like Terry! She returned my documents with a warning. Her persona just begged a bit of my writing humor, so I said, stupidly, "I should have had my Obama Sticker in the back window."

Officer Terry looked me right in the eyes, her own bright eyes still sparkling, but expression changed. "It wouldn't have made a bit of difference," she said.

Terry might have passed up the opportunity to get any revenue out of me, but, I can testify to her superiors and to the community, she definitely procured a tremendous impression, goodwill and respect for Venice P.D.'s finest! And, a new hope for America. Thank you, Terry. You made my day!

Susan C. Haley, Author/Editor
Laurel, Florida 34272
c.c. Venice Police Department

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Member Comments

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Vikki Hall wrote Jul 31, 2009
    • Ok because I did read your book I have to laugh.... no speeding ticket for you!

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Tamra wrote Jul 31, 2009
    • I feel the same way about the officers in my little Texas town.  They have always treated me with courtesy and professionalism, most likely because I give them their deserved respect and my complete cooperation.  I have yet to find an officer that would behave any differently if given due respect.

      By the way, I’ve visited Venice and Sarasota.  Nice places, especially in the winter!

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Midnightmom wrote Aug 6, 2009
    • You sure did luck out! Speaking of profiling, you referring to racial,  consider what the response would have been if you were a teenage boy or a girl. I don’t think they would have fared as well as you did. Profiling goes on concerning many different levels.

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Susan Haley wrote Aug 6, 2009
    • I appreciate all the comments. I sense some of you weren’t quite in agreement with me, but that is okay! I think it was the news headlines of the week that had me riled more than anything. :)

      Vikki, good to know you read Rainy Day. Shhhhh! Now, you know the rest of the story. :)) Yes, I rather do enjoy flying. I do pick my spots, though. I am a safe driver! I swear it! :)

      Tamra, yes it is lovely here in the fall winter and spring, but you being from Texas, you know it’s hell on earth in July, August and September. The ground temperature in my yard runs about 110 and the air is like soup.
      I’ve had and heard bad experience with the Sarasota PD, but what struck me about my particular incident was it was a woman treating another woman shallowly. Maybe I expected more from a woman.

      I lived in small farming communities in North Carolina and Ohio and most of my younger life in major cities like Chicago and Detroit. Like every other part of culture, there is good and bad in all and a huge difference between urban and rural. It’s not so much geographical as urban vs rural life style. It’s even understandable.

      Midnight, I agree that profiling goes on in all walks of life. I’ve lived them all at my age, youth, senior, female, work force, and yes, law enforcement. When I was a young girl, I didn’t have a car. I was 22 when I was able to have my first car. These days, I do think teenage drivers getting a license at 15 or 16 and being addicted to cellphones and texting is a problem on the road.
      On the other hand, I think seniors often are able to renew a license long after they should be driving. Once again, follow the money!! :)

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Linni wrote Aug 6, 2009
    • great story! thanks for sharing it!

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Tamra wrote Aug 6, 2009
    • Speaking of young drivers, I have a 15 yr old with a learner’s permit.  State Farm offers a discount to young drivers if they are willing to take a free self study course titled Steer Clear.  I asked him to watch the DVD included with the materials, and I was so pleased at the impact it had on him.  It sent a strong message to him about the senseless deaths teenagers suffer due to carelessness when driving.  I would highly recommend this program to anyone with a teenager driver.  In fact, I am hoping to get some of my son’s friends to watch it, too.  PS No, I don’t work for State Farm, nor do I have any relatives who do.  ;^)

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Susan Haley wrote Aug 8, 2009
    • Tamra - that is excellent and I have State Farm myself so I know they offer that program. :))

      It shows you are a responsible parent. Also shows that your teenagers listen to you. I always say respect is not a given, it must be earned. Even between parent child. You’ve obviously set that pattern. My kudos to you.


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