Sister Sandra was on my mind the other day.
Yes. She’s been on everyone’s mind. What happened to her, whether you believe the coroner’s report or not, should not happen to anyone else.
But she was especially on my mind as I was driving in my hometown of Houston last week. There was a police car behind me.
I saw him in my rearview mirror. He drove down the street and turned right when I turned right and followed me several blocks. He may have been running my plates. He may have been just driving. Or he may have wondered what he’ll have for dinner.
What I was wondering was what can I do to not get pulled over for any reason, big or small.
I wasn’t speeding. My registration was up to date. No outstanding tickets or warrants. But my heart was beating a million miles a minute. For the first time ever, in my hometown and in my old neighborhood, I felt unsafe. I shivered in fear. My mom was sitting in the front seat.
These cops. I grew up with them. I knew them. Whenever there was trouble in the neighborhood, calling the Harris County Constables was easy. When someone tried to shoot my dad right in the driveway of our home, and he returned fire, they knew my dad. They knew him to be a peaceful man and so he wasn’t arrested for protecting his home. When I first learned to drive and was speeding through the neighborhood, one of them stopped me. He gave me a warning and watched as I drove the speed limit. And as I got older, whenever I wasn’t able to get a hold of family and I thought the worst (and lived more than 5 hours away) I called them to do a welfare check. For me, they did protect and serve.
However, as a person of color, I was always weary of them. I did live in Texas after all, but never would I think that something like what happened to Sister Sandra would happen to anyone.
But it did happen. It happened to all of us. So with a constable on my tail, I made a more than usual conscious effort to drive to the letter of the law. My mom, who is Guatemalan, asked me what was wrong. Why was I driving slower than the speed of traffic.
“Because I’m black woman driving in Texas,” I responded.
For the first time, my mom understood what I was talking about. See, my mom only understands some of what it’s like to be AfroLatina in a red, southern state. Her experience is more in line with the Mexican and immigrant experience in America. I’m darker than her by several shades. I may be her daughter, I may speak Spanish, but to everyone else I am a black woman. With that comes a set of experiences she can’t completely understand.
But Sandra, that video, what happened to her in the jail cell, the pain her family must be feeling… that she understood. And so, my mom understood what it was like to be black while driving around in Houston with a cop car behind you.
Soon, he turned off on a side street and we sighed with relief. There is fear in the world. There always will be but a black women in Texas has more fear than the average person. Simply because the person pulling you over could be friend or foe. By the time you figure it out, it could be too late.
Icess Fernandez Rojas is a writer, blogger, teacher, and journalist. Her commentary has appeared in The Guardian and on Huffington Post Latino Voices. Her fiction has been published in literary journals/anthologies such as Minvera Rising and Soul’s Road. Her first book, the beginning of the Jennie Manning series, will come out next year. In addition to writing, Icess teaches fiction writing classes. Want more on what it takes to be a writer? Sign up or contact her and ask a question.