Monday night I was driving home from work around 11p.m. and I was doing a little over 50 in a 35 zone, until I was pulled over. The cop greeted me, explained that he was having a hard time keeping up doing 50 in this 35 zone, took my driver’s license and then proceeded to run my information in the system. He came back a few moments later with nothing but my driver’s license and said, “Thank you Ms. Calder, please slow down on Bells Ferry Road.” I graciously thanked the cop and proceeded to drive home. Speeding. Whilst also mulling in significant frustration. I was disappointed and outright appalled that I didn’t get a ticket. And here’s why.
If I was a male? I probably would’ve got a ticket. If I was driving a sport’s car? I probably would’ve got a ticket. If I was black? I probably would’ve got a ticket. If I had prior convictions on my record? I probably would’ve got a ticket. But I didn’t. Because I was a white female with a clean record driving an ordinary car. People might think that I’m ungrateful because I’m upset about not getting a ticket - this has nothing to do with gratitude. I am grateful. But I’m also filled with rage. Being a feminist is not about believing that women should receive special treatment, it’s about believing in fairness and equality for all. Not just women.
The reason this event is so significant, as are the numerous other times that I’ve been pulled over and let off for speeding, is that it touches on something incredibly important, especially for those involved in our criminal justice system: biases. And we all have them. They’re automatic and deeply rooted within us. I certainly have them too; cultural biases, racial biases, sexual biases, age biases etc., but the difference is that I am aware of them and can admit that I have them.
When a cop walks up to a car, they become immediately filled with preconceived notions about the individual purely based on what they look like. For the most part, these initial reactions are unavoidable. What is avoidable though, is whether they choose to act on them and how they choose to act on them. I am not here to criticise police, because I certainly would not want their job, but instead, to draw attention to the fact that cultural biases exist. The first step in obtaining cultural competency and fairness for all is awareness; being able to identify when these automatic cultural biases are present and then consciously choosing to override them.
The other reason I am frustrated that I didn’t get a ticket, and the primary reason that I don’t have a lot of faith in the American criminal justice system, is because how am I ever going to learn? If I continue to speed and I continue to avoid consequences, what incentive do I have to change my behaviour? Well, I don’t. Which means my behaviour is not going to change. And it’s the same reason that individuals who drink and drive are invariably multiple offenders; because they are either not caught, or when they are caught, their consequence is so insignificant or delayed that it does not deter them from repeating their former behaviour, thus actually serving to reinforce the undesirable behaviour. So in order to effectively administer punishment (which is defined as decreasing the frequency of a behaviour), these factors need to be fulfilled:
Immediate, not delayed
Consistently (as much as possible), follow EACH occurrence of the undesirable behaviour
Intense enough to suppress the behaviour
Punishment of inappropriate behavior should be complimented with positive reinforcement of appropriate behavior
As you can see, the American system fails to implement many, if not all of these factors. In Australia however, they implement a few of these. Because of the use of radar guns and red light/speed cameras, it is almost demerit point suicide to speed; there is a much higher likelihood that when you do speed, you will be caught – fulfilling the second requirement. Typically, if you see a radar and know you were speeding, the punishment is immediate because the consequence is so severe; a potential immediate loss of license, or at the minimum, a few demerit points and a significant, $400+, fine.
I am not here to glorify Australia nor to criticise the police in this country, but I do want to acknowledge the flaws in this system and the people in which operate this system. We entrust police officers to implement the law, and we entrust them to do so fairly. What I have experienced though, is this is not the case. Police officers, like us, are human. They possess automatic, cultural biases that shape their world and their perception of it. We, collectively, need to do a much better job of acknowledging and admitting these biases. It’s okay to have them and to admit that you have them; ignoring them is futile and ignorant. We cannot change what we do not know exists. And so I write this post to start conversations, to help people hold themselves accountable, and to help hold those in power accountable.