Saunders: Profiled -- in a positive way -- by a Durham deputy

bsaunders@newsobserver.comOctober 14, 2013 

Darn. Profiled again.

One day after writing last week about being pulled over and searched on a South Carolina highway by sheriff’s deputies and their drug-sniffing dog – “man’s best friend,” my butt – I was approached by a Durham County deputy on a dark stretch of road in the wee hours.

That’s the time of night, we are told, that nothing good ever happens.

It was obvious the deputy stopped only after profiling me, but not for the reason you might think I think. He stopped because I was driving an 18-year-old truck that didn’t proceed when the traffic light turned green. He had a legitimate concern that it couldn’t move. I have the same concern every time I crank that sucker up.

Deputy: Is everything all right?

Me: Yes, sir.

Deputy: I just noticed that the arrow turned green and you didn’t turn.

I explained that I had just led my former college roommate and his woman that far and was directing them to the interstate highway so they could continue on their trek from Washington to Atlanta after a brief pitstop in Durham. They continued through the light, but I stopped and was merely making sure they kept going in the right direction before turning around to go home.

Deputy: OK. I was just checking to make sure everything was all right.

You know what? I had the feeling that he really was.

Who was that lawman?

I hadn’t seen him approaching from my right, but I was glad he was there. I wanted to ask him his name to thank him personally for stopping to inquire about my well-being, but he drove off before I could.

I later called the sheriff’s office to see whether they knew who was working that stretch of 15-501 in northern Durham around 2:30 a.m., but the dispatcher could only narrow it down to a few.

Some of you came down pretty hard on your beloved correspondent last week for writing about being stopped en route to Atlanta by South Carolina deputies. They ensnared me in what they pretentiously called “Operation Rolling Thunder,” a statewide operation designed to catch drug traffickers passing through their state.

Typical was this response from a reader named Marcel, who wrote, “You showed total disrespect for the police officers who were doing their job. You gave them wise-ass answers which led them to be suspicious of you.” He said some other things that were far less pleasant.

Sure, when asked, I’d told the deputies they couldn’t search my car or me until they got a warrant, and when they asked why I was going to Atlanta, I replied, “I like Atlanta.” When one asked “What do you do for a living,” I said, “I work.”

Not Mr. Sunshine

That might sound flippant to some, but you have to realize – as I noted last week – that journalists aren’t as beloved by everyone as they are by you guys. How’d I know some columnist hadn’t somehow ticked him off earlier that day?

Besides, after being probed, groped and having my Nabs slobbered on by a dope-seeking canine, I wasn’t my usual Mr. Sunshiny self standing there on the side of the highway with automobiles whizzing by.

Also, regardless of my responses, I have the feeling those dudes were suspicious of me from the moment I woke up that day.

Mentioning my late-night experience with the Durham deputy is not intended to curry the favor of Marcel or the scores of people who expressed sentiments similar to his. Such people would think I was being disrespectful even if I’d recited the Lord’s Prayer while voluntarily disrobing to show that I had no dope.

I’m mentioning it now only because I’m one of the biggest fans cops have and I’ve always respected what they do – OK, at least since I stopped doing wrong four decades ago.

Sure, cops have stopped and futilely searched me at least 100 times along the nation’s highways and byways, but I’ve had an equal number of positive experiences with cops – like the ones who’ve helped me push myriad broken-down vehicles out of the road, or those who’ve responded when I’ve been beaten up and robbed, or had my home broken into.

So, just because I wouldn’t share a wet Nab with the three from South Carolina who stopped me and tore apart my rental car and packed clothes – and no, I didn’t swerve, as they alleged – I tip my hat to the one who stopped to help me last week and to all the ones who make our world safer.

Saunders: 919-836-2811

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