What I forgot to tell my son about “driving while black"
On Black Friday, my 17-year-old son (Varday Jacobs) was traveling home from a friend’s house in Delaware. We are Pennsylvania residents, but Varday is a graduating senior at a high school in Delaware, so he travels on Rt 202 from Delaware to Pennsylvania daily, for school and various activities. On this particular night, he was on schedule to arrive home in West Chester, PA by midnight, which is his underage driving curfew.
While passing through the Chadds Ford Township, my son was tailed by Trooper Jones of the Pennsylvania State Police (Media). Trooper Jones flashed his lights for my son to get over, for which he did immediately. Varday recalls that Trooper Jones stated that he pulled him over for “swerving” in his lane. After questioning who he was, where he was coming from, where he was going, and what activities he had been involved in that night, Trooper Jones became focused on the false assumption that my son was under the influence of alcohol. “Come on… what kind of party doesn’t have alcohol”, states Trooper Jones in a coercion attempt.
After adamantly and repeatedly denying the use of alcohol, Trooper Jones removed my 17-year-old son from his vehicle around midnight to proceed with a field breathalyzer for alcohol. At one point, Trooper Jones appeared to be trouble-shooting the device and remarked to my son, “this just may be your lucky day”. Varday said nothing. My son remembers blowing into the device at least five times, before being permitted to return to his vehicle, in this very uncomfortable situation. Trooper Jones never explained his actions or discussed the results, rather cited my son for “changed lanes without signaling”, something that happened AFTER the trooper flashed his lights to pull over.
As a mother of six black boys, this traffic stop is my worse fear. My son is a new driver and has never been pulled over by an officer. He was naïve and alone, pulled over on the side of the road, in the dark, at midnight. Trooper Jones was unprofessional in every sense of the word. Flaunting his authority and power, Trooper Jones behaved as if Varday was “guilty until proven innocent”, interrogating a minor without parental consent, unnecessarily removing my son from his vehicle, proceeding with unfamiliar practices without explanation, treating him as a criminal, being purposefully rude, humiliating him… and then sent my son on his way, violated and defeated.
This past September, this same division of the Pennsylvania State Police denied racial bias in an incident where an African American couple was pulled over in July of 2019, removed from their vehicle, and handcuffed in their own driveway after being detained when their tire “touched the yellow line”. Like my son, this couple was African American, traveling late at night, said to be “swerving”, and handled inappropriately by the authority that is tasked to “protect and serve”. Although PA State Police denied racial bias in this case, Lt Col. Scott Price (deputy commissioner of administration and professional responsibility) was quoted saying, “Pennsylvanians expect and deserve the highest level of professionalism in their encounters with the State Police…” in regard to the misconduct involving Trooper Johnson and the Gillespie Family.
On Black Friday, Trooper Jones did not act with the highest level of professionalism when encountering a minor, who had absolutely no previous law enforcement interaction, in what should have been a routine and swift traffic stop. His intentions, prejudices, dialogue, and interactions during this particular traffic stop that occurred on Black Friday need to be reviewed and investigated for misconduct. The Delaware County division of the Pennsylvania State Police needs to be investigated for their current training and ongoing practices. Countless allegations of misconduct and racial profiling within this jurisdiction continue to surface. Governor Wolf has a goal of a “Government that works”, where people are kept safe in their communities and on Pennsylvania’s roads. Troop K is purposefully hindering progress toward this goal.
My son plead not guilty to his violation and went to his scheduled hearing yesterday, January 21, 2020. Although Varday had to miss some school, I had to opt into an evening shift at work, and my husband had to take a vacation time to appear, Trooper Jones did not show for this scheduled hearing. The violation, which carries no points, was not dismissed by the Honorable Wendy B. Roberts, yet the case was “continued” to give the Trooper another chance to appear.
Varday, his father, and I will once again sacrifice valuable time, work, and money to show up again, to plead not guilty to the harassment of Trooper Jones in regard to the citation dated: 11/30/19 at 12:20am.
What I forgot to tell my son about “driving while black” …
Follow all laws. Pull over where it’s lit. Don’t be afraid to ask “why”. Ask to call your parents. Hand over the documents, but don’t reach too fast. Answer the questions, but don’t say too much. Ask again to call your parents. Comply. You have nothing to prove. We’ll work it out in court. Come home safe. I love you.