This essay, submitted to the Rantoul Press in 2009, was never published. The author shares it now to give context to community concerns with policing in Rantoul in the wake of recent police shootings of young Black men.
“You were put here to protect us, but who protects us from you? Every time you say ‘that’s illegal,’ doesn’t mean that it’s true.” (Boogie Down Productions, 1989)
When I was a teenager those were just words to a song. As an adult, they’ve become a motto. I have been DWB (driving while Black) for 20 years now and I’ve learned there are special Rules of the Road for those who suffer with DWB.
For example, Rule No. 1: If you, at any time while in traffic, make eye contact with an officer for longer than two seconds, just pull over, find your paperwork, and save your gas.
No. 2: You cannot own or operate a vehicle that is, or looks like it is, worth more than the officer’s pension statement.
No. 3: Late-night driving is prohibited.
No. 4: Know your rights as new rules are added every day. I call these freestyle rules, because officers think of these off the top of their heads. Based on my time here in Rantoul, the local police are some of the best freestylers in the business. Here’s my story.
In 2000, I came to Rantoul to enjoy the affordable housing, reasonable utility rates, and low-crime atmosphere. I quickly learned that those gifts also come with a curse. In a small village with low crime, DWB is treated like a felony.
Let’s start with Officer “Mustache.” My first encounter between me, my ’91 Buick Park Avenue with ragtop and custom wheels (that I inherited from my father), was quite odd. Officer “Mustache” was very upset about the sag of my inside headliner (I saw the officer in the rearview mirror, I don’t know why he said he couldn’t see me).
He ordered me to fix the problem before our next encounter. Two weeks later, we met again. Once again, the headliner was slightly sagging, but the back seat was riddled with bright red thumbtacks. I suggested that they must have fallen out as I was returning from Champaign with the windows cracked.
He was not impressed and stated the next time would bring seizure and impound. Impound? I immediately arranged a meeting with the mayor, who agreed a low headliner is not grounds for seizure or impound. He assured me that the problem would be handled. Sure enough, no more liner stops.
In 2001 Officer “Lawnmower” and I had a peculiar encounter. A coworker called me for a ride to Champaign early on a Friday afternoon, and I honked my horn upon arrival. A few minutes later, since she hadn’t responded, I honked again. As I waited an angry man stuck his head in my passenger-side window and, in a not-so-nice way, told me next time to knock on the door.
I proceeded to tell the stranger to exit my vehicle and please return to his yard. He accused me of disturbing his newborn baby’s sleep. He then announced he was a police officer and knew how to solve this problem.
Seconds later he returned with his police radio. Moments after that, my path was blocked by a marked police car. The uniformed officer cuffed and arrested me while “Lawnmower” followed behind taunting me at every step. On top of that, my refusal to enter the police car until he announced his name and badge number landed me an additional charge of resisting arrest. Wow!
It took several visits to the courthouse, a trial by jury, and a foot-in-the-mouth moment during that trial to get me out of that crazy situation. Officer “Lawnmower” stated that he had just finished mowing the lawn when I arrived honking. Hello? Thought you said your newborn was asleep!
The verdict: not guilty of disorderly conduct but guilty of resisting arrest. I’m still trying to figure out how that works. I did file a citizen complaint against both officers, but nothing was addressed.
Then, in 2009, the declining economy and lack of job opportunities forced me to break one of the most important rules of DWB (no late-night driving). I had to accept a night-shift job that brought me back to Rantoul around midnight Monday through Friday. I was then introduced to Officer “BS.”
One night he saw me enter an intersection behind him. He then crossed two lanes without signaling, went the wrong way down a one-way street, and, as I passed, got behind me and pulled me over. He said I wasn’t completely behind the line back at the intersection. He then gave me a ticket for not informing the DMV I had changed the address on my license, even though both my cars were registered to my current address.
What? I filed a citizen complaint once again and asked to speak to a supervisor. What do you know? Officer “Mustache” came from the back room. Never mind.
It took me months to beat that ticket.
Next event: Officers “BS” and “No Choice” arrested me for a ticket infraction. I made a late-night run to the gas station and on the way back I realized I was in the only car on the street. That’s never good news when you’re DWB. Soon I spotted a fast-approaching vehicle in the opposite lane. By the time I reached Veteran’s, the vehicle was right behind me, and as I reached my turn, he turned on his lights.
Officer “No Choice” approached the car and asked for my identification, and why didn’t I immediately stop when he turned the lights on? I told Officer “No Chance” that I had out-of-town guests arriving soon and I did not want them to drive by my house and not see my car. Next, he asked if I was aware that my license was suspended. I replied I was not aware and assured him it must be a mistake because I only had had one ticket in nearly eight years. He said it was possibly an unpaid fine, and that I needed to exit the vehicle and assume the position. Now normally this infraction would be handled by a ticket and a court date. That night, even though I was standing in front of my own house, having the car impounded and with my confused out-of-town guests approaching the scene, Officer “No Choice” offered me only jail time.
As I was trying to plead my case, Officer “BS” approached from the other side and attempted to use force to get me in a prone position. Knowing that I was among two overreacting characters I decided to request a supervisor. I put up my forearm to prevent Officer “BS” from tackling me and said, “Wait a minute, I want . . .” then, bang! Officer “No Chance” introduced me to his taser. “Now you’ve made it worse because you resisted,” they told me. I had heard that song before. Even though I made several requests for the return of my prescription glasses (knocked off in the struggle), my wishes were not granted.
After bonding out I headed to the police department to retrieve my house keys, and was told my glasses were never found. Back home, I found my glasses right where I was arrested and severely bent as if stepped on. I returned to the police department to log yet another complaint, and to my surprise, the superior that came to hear my complaint was Officer “Lawnmower.” Looked like this was going to be a no-win situation.
If I’m treated like this in Rantoul, and I don’t even have a police record, I can only imagine the treatment fellow DWB’s are receiving around here.
Kevin Williams, formerly of Champaign, is a 20-year resident of Rantoul, a single parent, a middle school basketball coach and a 2021 Rantoul mayoral candidate.
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