To The Racist Cop Who Stopped Me, This Is What I Want You To Know

by Marla Khan-Schwartz
Originally Published: 
Chalabala / Getty

Dear Sergeant,

It has taken me many years to write about how I feel and what has transpired since our only 5 minute interaction in April of 2009. You see, for many years I was embarrassed and didn’t want anyone to know what happened because, initially, I believed that I was the reason this all happened. What I have come to terms with is that I was the reason this all happened, and it was exactly for the reason you and I probably both know.

Let’s recapture that night so long ago so I can remind you. It’s been so long and there have probably been so many others that look like me afterward, that you may have forgotten. I was in my early thirties, had a clean driving record and am Southern Asian in descent. I am pretty brown — that I am sure you probably would remember but may be confused by your other clients.

I had been at a fashion show with a friend of mine who designs lingerie that night. We had a great time. By the time I left, it had rained and made the streets gloss with a reflection that caused some glaring because of the street lights along the highway. As I approached my usual exit to go home, I started to see road flares. What was ahead of me was blinded by a curve with a barrier that ran alongside it. In my mind, road flares meant proceed with caution, or a street may be closed. Considering it was around 10:30 p.m. and there was little traffic, I decided to proceed with caution. As I approached the exit and it became visible, you were still tough to see. It was dark, and the roads glistened with old rain water. It soon struck me that the exit was closed. I tried to merge, but given the glare and the other cars rushing around me to avoid the exit, it was too late — the median started and I was trapped.

I slowly pulled up behind a squad car and looked over at you taking a report from what appeared to be a car accident. I remember seeing your face become what I could only surmise as anger. You walked over, and asked me in a very stern voice, “What are you doing here?”

Now, there seems to be some confusion according to the police report about what I might have said back to you. I stated, “I didn’t realize the exit was closed.” In your report, you stated I said, “I don’t know.” It’s tough for me to fathom that you might have misled others when trying to make a case against me, but it didn’t surprise me later. You took my license and insurance, ran them through your eloquent system to find, at the time, I literally had nothing on my record. You came back a couple minutes later, told me that you would send me a ticket in the mail, and that I should proceed forward towards the exit by passing through the two vehicles in front of me.

I was relieved you didn’t express any further anger as I already felt bad enough for interrupting your time, however, I was planning immediately on challenging you on the impending ticket as I wanted to explain why and how I ended up in your accident scene. It was unintentional and hoped that someone could give me the benefit of the doubt as we are all human and we all make mistakes, right?

I called the county office daily looking for that ticket to contest. Time passed and I thought to myself, maybe you decided it wasn’t a big deal and discarded the idea. I was shocked when I received my “ticket” in the mail. You sent me a criminal court summons with three criminal misdemeanor charges. Let me remind you of what you charged me with in the 5 minutes you and I interacted: Careless Driving, Failing to Yield to an Emergency Vehicle, and Passing through Two Emergency Vehicles.

I want to remind you of a few things before we go further. I approached the scene very slowly. I yielded to all of you as best as I could given the situation and, finally, you asked me to pass through the two vehicles. That was entrapment. You ran my license and I had a clean record. You asked me what I was doing and I honestly stated I was unaware the exit was closed. I was not intoxicated. I was not erratic in any fashion in which you made a decision to arrest me on the spot. Our interaction again was at the most, five minutes.

Why did you charge me with these crimes? That question still continues to haunt me to this day although what is more daunting, is the assumption that can be made regarding the answer.

You forced me to spend my summer in court with an attorney I had to hire. I started to see a pattern when I arrived in the courtroom. Everyone looked like me. They talked to me about jail time and probation. I thought I was going mad as I couldn’t believe this was happening. Another young woman was also there and literally about to give birth. The prosecutor coldly talked to her about stayed jail time because she failed to produce an insurance card during her pull over. Yes, I definitely saw a pattern.

Luckily for me, I could afford an attorney and all criminal charges were dismissed, but I was forced to plead guilty to one of your charges as a petty misdemeanor. Not everyone has the luxury of an attorney, nor the education I do, to decipher what everything means. Many of your victims take your deals as they have always been taught their place to be powerless.

I will give you this: that summer you helped me become more emotionally intact than I think I have ever been about being from a protected class of people. You helped me bring my emotions to the surface enough to have a desperate need to stop this from happening to others that are part of protected classes of people. You enraged me. You brought out a beast that I never thought I knew I had within me. You made the reasons for my charges clear to me without ever having to verbalize anything.

By the end of the summer, I was appointed as a Civil Rights Commissioner by our City Council and the Mayor’s Office. You probably thought you taught me a lesson by trying to ruin everything I had built as my life up until that point. Yes, I could have lost my job, livelihood and many other things, but instead, I rose up above any level I think you ever thought I would. Your actions caused a powerful reaction that has resulted in my quest to help and serve individuals that have been discriminated against based on being part of protected classes of people. You didn’t break me down, Sergeant, you made me rise up and you will see me again someday, but this time it will be helping one of the individuals you may be trying to destroy. I want you to also know that I will empower them to fight back and become empowered as individuals.

Marla Khan-Schwartz

I wish you would have given me the benefit of the doubt that I, as the brown person I am, was just as human as you that night. However, I forgive you. This situation has allowed me to grow as a human and become an empowered brown woman thanks to you.

If our paths cross again, I hope I can show you how justice can be served.

With Love,

Your Worst Nightmare

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