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My run-ins with Birmingham’s finest

I don’t seem to have the best luck with my limited run-ins with Birmingham’s finest.

I got pulled over by a police officer as I turned into The Summit late Saturday afternoon. He seemed nervous as he walked up alongside my car. I’ve had some insane things occur with my car, which I affectionately call “Big Blue” since it was purchased during my working for a corporation phase. It’s the lone remnant of that time. It definitely doesn’t look perfect as as result of those insane things; the entire left side is torn up.

Anyhow, I was told that I’d not renewed my tag as of yet. I’m still a Yankee at heart, so I still call them license plates. I suddenly remembered that I’d never received notice of renewal. I was told that it didn’t matter and that I should have known. This would be true if I’d grown up here, but I’m still used to the notion of something much more logical with regards to renewal, like renewing based on your birthday month or something like that. I told him that I’d recently moved and he said “yeah, I know all about that,” which still puzzles me. When he returned with my ticket, he had still written down my old address on it.

Now this is the point where I must say that this officer was ten times nicer than the guys I dealt with my last and only other experience with Birmingham’s finest. I slight tangent for a moment…

I was visiting Birmingham in 2000 for City Stages and I’d just dropped my friend Chris off at home because he was sick. I for some crazy reason, wanted to go back and see James Brown perform at the Coca Cola Stage. I ended up finding a parking spot next to St. Paul’s United Methodist Church (a placement I still find funny considering it’s directly across the street from the Civil Rights Institute and what follows).

Being a native New Yorker I realized that there was an unmarked car across the street and the officer inside of it was watching me. I got out of my car and grabbed my bag from my trunk (remember this). Before I got to the intersection there were five cruisers surrounding me and I was being told to put my hands up against the church.

When I asked why I was being detained I was told that there had been reports of a Black man stealing items from cars and the officer had just seen me take something out of the trunk of the car. I said yes since it was my car and I’d just come back from taking someone home. The officer in charge then asked for my identification, though they made me pass them my wallet (since they thought I was armed; really funny looking back).

The officer in charge asked what was in the bag; I told him all of its contents, including a lens for the SLR I’d gotten as a high school graduation gift that I’d just purchased to replace the original. He then asked why I was still driving on a New York State driver’s license if the car I was walking away from had Georgia tags. I told him that if he checked the ownership of the car that my father was listed as the owner and Georgia law stated that only the primary driver had to have a state-issued license and only then if he or she operated the vehicle.

He then noticed my Georgia Press Association card and their attitude suddenly changed. I think they also realized the fact that I was wearing a weekend pass to the festival. They apologized for the inconvenience and said that they “were stopping anyone that came close to the description” of the suspect and hoped that I enjoyed the rest of my trip to Birmingham. Needless to say that it was one of the most unnerving experiences of my life.

Now, returning to the present… even though the registration that accompanies your new tag sticker says that the county is not responsible for you not receiving your notice, I still wanted to make sure that besides being absentminded, that I wasn’t completely at fault. What did I find out? I did find evidence of an email sent to some friends stating that people who had renewals in March and April may never have received their notices due to a printing error. Unfortunately, I could not find the original post that contained the email from the state official admitting to the delay. Not that it matters; I’ll pay the fine.

I’ve learned that I can’t trust my mind to remember certain things anymore. I’ve also learned that I probably need to be driving a nicer car in the future since he followed me from downtown out to The Summit before he stopped me.

The one regret I had from my last encounter with the police was that I did not ask why they were stopping “anyone that fit the description.” I felt that this time I needed to make sure that I’d at least done my part.

That’s all I’ve got, though I’d love to hear your opinions. Enjoy the day!


Published inBirminghamCommentaryurban issues