Driving While Black: Welcome to the Club, Tyler Perry

Even if you’re as rich as Tyler Perry, chances are you will be racially profiled

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 (Image: Getty)

This past Sunday, Tyler Perry posted a lengthy status update on his Facebook fan page (Why doesn’t he have an actual blog?) explaining a recent run-in with the police where the filmmaker/entrepreneur says he was harassed and feared things could take a “turn for the worse.” The incident occurred as Perry was leaving his movie studio and, as a security measure to prevent being followed, he made a left turn from the right lane and was subsequently pulled over for the illegal driving infraction. By his account, the simple traffic stop spiraled into scary waters after the police officers, who both happened to be White, thought something was “wrong” with Perry for thinking someone was following him.

As one of the richest people in America (regardless of color) with an estimated net worth of $350 million, Perry has every right to be concerned with being followed. However, I can understand how making such a claim could appear “crazy” to someone who’s unaware of the movie mogul’s status–as was the case here. Still, the officers’ actions, according to Perry’s depiction, appear to have been extreme and exaggerated, but that doesn’t negate the fact that Perry was in the wrong.

From his own admission, Perry made an illegal turn that caused him to be pulled over. As most people of color can attest to, being approached by an officer of the law in such a situation can be nerve racking, regardless of whether you’ve done something or not. We’ve heard too many stories of overzealous patrolmen roughing up or opening fire on a driver during a routine traffic stop.

Perry’s second err of judgment was not properly explaining himself. I’m not saying that he should have tried to use his celebrity to get out of a ticket he deserved, but simply saying you thought you were being followed without context does look suspect. According to Perry, though, the officers continually badgered him with questions without offering him the opportunity to respond in depth.

His third err was losing his cool and blurting, “I think you guys need to just write the ticket and do whatever you need to do.” While I understand Perry’s frustration and wanting to get the ordeal over with, driving while Black requires much more tact. It’s sad to say, but the advice his mother gave him about dealing with the police still rings true today.

Perry wrote:

My mother would always say to me, “If you get stopped by the police, especially if they are White policemen, you say, ‘Yes, sir,’ and ‘No, sir,’ and if they want to take you in, you go with them. Don’t resist, you hear me? Don’t make any quick moves, don’t run, you just go.”

I can relate to Perry’s mother’s perspective. I’m not sure when I picked up this survival skill, but as a Black man in America I follow suit religiously. Back in my college years, a group of friends and I were driving two cars deep on our way back to Queens from a pool hall in Long Island. I was behind the wheel of my mother’s car, a beat up Cutlass Supreme, following my friends who were leading the way in the vehicle in front of me.

As we approached this one intersection, I noticed a police car creeping up beside me and rather than pulling up to the walkway, the officer left his car parallel to mine. I could feel his eyes peering into my car, but I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong so I paid him no mind. Still, I couldn’t help but feel tense at the fact that this man with a gun was staring at me.

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  • Trajan

    Trayvon Martin shot dead in Florida for walking along minding his own business unarmed, alone with his hood over his head on a rainy night. 2012.

    Tremarley Graham, another Black teenager, shot dead in the Bronx by off-duty policemen who weren’t even supposed to be on duty at all any time soon as they were ordered to hand in their badges over some problem.

    He was chased to his home for supposedly looking like he was up to no good, and locked himself in his bathroom afraid of the armed men. He told them repeatedly he had no gun, they forced their way in and shot him dead in front of his 6 year old brother. 2011.


    American Hero and ex Marine Chamberlain, a Black man who served his country, was tasered to death last year by police at his White Plains, NY home. His crime? Accidentally triggering a medical alert and when nobody answered the front door at his home the police broke the door down. The man of duty was tasered, he had a heart condition, was tasered to death. 2011.

    I could go on. As a white man (I am named after the Roman Emperor Trajan)I am absolutely revolted by the racial profiling occurring in our so called democratic country. STOP THE RACIAL PROFILING OF BLACK PEOPLE.

    • Annelise

      Thank you Sir!

  • Bartholomew J Worthington III

    It would seem that it is impossible to divorce increase in the outright violation of the civil rights of Blacks from the backlash against the nation’s first Commander in Chief of color.

    The blowback has been severe, especially from those who, three years in, still have yet to accept the man in the Oval Office as the democratically elected leader of the nation.

    • Longtom

      What possible relevance is this to the above article?

    • jack_sprat2

       It’s now 12 years past the first election of George W. Bush. Half of the Democrats in this country STILL have not accepted him.

  • John

    Without a dash camera recording the event, we unfortunately don’t have much information into what was said or done. We do know that police often lie, and the black men driving expensive cars are typically profiled. We also know that wealthy people often have a sense of entitlement that makes them feel they’re above the law.

    I don’t know what the “truth” is of this actual exchange, but what I do know is that if were making a left turn from the right-hand lane, I’d expect to be pulled over. I also know that if I said it was to ensure that “no one was following me”, I’d expect a very high degree of suspicion. Maybe the cop had some underlying or overt prejudices which contributed to his reaction? Maybe Perry’s expectations and suspicions led him to view this altercation through a jaundiced lens?

    Sometimes, and apple is just an apple. I don’t know the truth in this case, but personally I generally refrain from breaking traffic laws, and if I do I really don’t consider “my security guard told me to do it” to be a valid excuse.

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  • Joe Bruce

    Ya know it’s funny that the presupposition of racism is no problem for the author or for Tyler Perry (who I happen to admire).

    You admit that the cop had every reason to pull you over due to a problem with your car. But after finding out you were wrong, you don’t admit fault with you presupposition of race being the causal factor you use it as an example to prove your case. That makes no sense.

    Same thing with Tyler, he did something illegal, gave a weird explanation and then lost his temper. News flash, white folks wouldn’t get away with that crap either.

    Look man, you want to continue to make progress? White folks aren’t the only ones who need to change. A lot of black folks operate under the prejudice that white folks motives are always about race. They aren’t, we seldom think about it. On both sides people need to judge each other on character and actions. In both cases you pointed out the officers did that and you and Tyler did not.

    • Stewie Girl

      Excellent point!!

    • OldRedned

      Spot on Joe. Dear oh dear, where would some people be without their ‘victim’ and ‘repressed’ tags? They are a racial embarrassed.

      In my view some of these articles – full of innuendo dressed up as fact – seem to border on racial incitement.

  • Jill

    And for every “bad” police officer, or bad teacher, or bad coach, or bad pastor, there are a 100 that are good, honest, hard working people that are even religious, kind, and a good Samaritans. We always hear about the bad, not the good. I won’t use real names, but we have good friends, who are white, they had four of their own children, then adopted from Africa. The local police here that dig out of their own pockets to give bikes and presents to the lower income children in the communities that they serve in. One of our closest friends are black, we are white. We don’t see color, we see human beings created by a loving God. We respect and love each other. I wish everyone was like that.

  • jack_sprat2

    What I do not get is why you imagine that the advice which Perry’s mother gave him doesn’t also apply to whites when pulled over by a cop. (The correct answer to their first question, by the way, is ‘No good excuse, sir’.) I’ve never once considered doing anything else. Aside from meth heads and drunks, few white people do.

    Yet, I’ve several times seen blacks who’ve been pulled over arguing their case, even repeatedly trying to turn around to do so. Street theater.

    News flash: That cop did NOT buy a ticket. He is NOT amused. He does NOT want to hear it. What he DOES want to do is go home safe at night. What street theater does is puts the fulfillment of that desire in question. The first rule of effective policing is that a cop cannot afford to lose control of a situation. Ever.

    See, here’s the thing. Cops don’t have to let citizens argue their case on the side of the street. Save it for court.

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  • J Wellington Wimpy

    Barack Obama was not “appointed” President of the US. He was elected to the position. 6th grade civics!

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