Why is a traffic stop a story? The question landed in my inbox several times this week, some from casual observers who only read headlines and some from readers who pore over every word and every second of our videos.
The Tyler Morning Telegraph received a video from a resident who was not criticizing the police, but the arrest looked and sounded a little over the top. All the person could see was a black man pull his vehicle over and a Smith County sheriff’s deputy’s car come up behind him with sirens on, then off.
They saw the man comply, and when he saw guns drawn, he was scared and told the deputies as much. You heard an inaudible yell from a deputy, but could clearly hear the suspect say he was scared. Then you could see him on the pavement and hear him say it was very hot and the handcuffs hurt.
Once he backed up toward the deputies and complied, the guns went into holsters, cuffs went on and the suspect went in the deputy’s car.
As we watched it in the newsroom, we didn’t know if this was for a missing turn signal or speeding. We did notice the guns went away, and it was not violent.
Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith agreed to give us the body cam and dash cam footage without knowing himself what had happened a few hours earlier. When he found out, my cell phone rang seconds after he was off the phone with the arresting officer.
Turns out, the suspect was accused of stealing a vehicle, and he out-ran the first deputy’s cruiser and was finally stopped by the second on Lake Placid Road, not before reaching speeds of over 100 mph and almost crashing going around a turn.
Fortunately, no cars were coming the other way after school.
Back to the point of “Why is this a story?”
Before the George Floyd incident, videos were all over social media and the internet showing parts of traffic stops. They showed people not complying because it is their right not to give a name or show ID if they feel they were pulled over for no reason.
In this case, I put myself in the shoes of the officers. The suspect opened and closed his door three times after the chase from a felony stolen vehicle call. I’ve said this before in this space —most of us have been pulled over once in our life. To push that gas pedal and try to run is a place my brain, my mind, my instinct, just can’t go.
It was also hot.
Now the other part, experience. One deputy was two weeks on the job, and we all know when we start a job we are ready to fix the world. The movie “Colors” is a prime example, as the officer played by a young Sean Penn tried to rid Compton, California, of drugs one marijuana joint at a time by all means necessary. His partner, a veteran (played by Robert Duvall) kept trying to slow him down, find the source of the drugs, not scare off potential sources.
In that sheriff’s car was the rookie and a veteran. You could not tell one from the other. Both treated the suspect like he was a frail patient leaving the hospital. They even made sure the air conditioning was turned all the way up in the car as he went to jail.
How would we handle this? I think I would have needed a few minutes for the adrenaline to stop flowing before I could act that calm and with that much physical restraint. I could see where an officer could take this personal and use more force, especially if you believe he was reaching in that visor for a weapon.
The upcoming election has caused great divide in this country. If you truly care about humans and not who is in the White House, this “non-viral” video should give you hope.
This was not a routine stop, but it was a routine arrest. Finding a balance of compassion and law and order when you don’t know if a person stepping out of a vehicle is about to try to take your life is not for everyone.
But it’s happening. The world is changing for the better. One traffic stop at a time. That’s why it’s not a story, and the video did not go viral. And that’s why it’s a story.