I am eleven years old sitting in the back of my family’s old Buick. We are driving through a national park after a long day of swimming. My sisters and I are exhausted, but happy. We’re driving slowly watching the deer grazing in the trees and enjoying the breeze. I am wishing I had a hair tie that I could use to keep my hijab out of my face. As I’m wondering if such a product exists, blue and red lights fill my vision. A cop car has pulled up behind us and its flashing lights reflect through the crooked rear-view mirror. My father, a dark-skinned Middle Eastern man, pulls over.
At age eleven, I still had the blissful idea that the adults would handle this situation and it would be over soon. I turn my attention to my father telling my older sister that they probably wanted to make sure we were okay. I look out my window and am faced with a police officer standing outside my window. There are three officers in total. Two on the driver’s side, where my father and I are sitting, and one on the passenger side, where my sisters are seated. I am not tall enough to see out the window properly and my only view is of this officer’s belt. I am transfixed by the contents surrounding his belt. The thick leather secures a handgun, handcuffs, a taser, and other things my eleven years old self could not identify.
“How can I help you officer?” my father asks. He is using his polite, kind voice; I recognize something is wrong. The officer next to my father’s window doesn’t answer him. She stares in silence for a second.
“Do you have an weapons on you or in the vehicle?” the words were said with such authority that I became terrified that we had an entire arsenal in the car, even though I knew the contents of this car by heart. But this officer also knew; she had to know. There was so much confidence, so much authority in her voice that I was so sure that she knew something we didn’t.
“No, ma’am.” My father said still using his polite voice, “We’ve just drove down here for a swim and now we’re enjoying the deer.”
“What is in your trunk?” the female officer asks. Was this normal? Was it normal for police to surround your car as your enjoying a drive through a national park? I thought they just wanted to make sure we were okay? These questions never left my mouth. I knew this was not a time or a place to say anything. My father was still using his polite voice.
“Our swimming clothes, our cooler, a few Frisbees, food…” my father didn’t know how detailed the officer wanted him to be.
“We need to see your trunk.” She states. It is not a question nor a request. It is a demand. My father does not refuse. Our car is old. My father has to manually unlock the trunk and put a certain amount of pressure in just the right place for it to open. My father explains this to the officers and asks if he can step out of the car to help them open the trunk. The officer says he can exit his vehicle, but they keep their distance and their hands rest on their belts. My father leaves the car and opens the trunk. My sisters and I wait. I peek around my open window and see one of the male officers holding my wet swimming clothes. I feel a pang of shame and humiliation. Those were not his to see or hold. I wanted to rip the clothes out of his hands and hide them away.
They rummage through our trunk, pulling out clothes, trash, floaties, a beach ball, Frisbees, our cooler, and many more items. Were they still looking for weapons? What did they want? Eventually, they haphazardly shove everything back into our trunk.
“You shouldn’t be driving so slow.” The female officer says.
“I was trying to let my kids see the deer a little bit better.” My father states.
“You shouldn’t be driving so slow. We’ll let you off with a warning this time.” With these parting words, the three officers walk back to their car. My father stands by our open trunk. He tucks some of our belongings into our trunk and closes it. He gets back into the car and drives off. We no longer stop or drive slowly to see the deer.