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HomeCommentaryReflections of an Evolving Elder: Driving Drunk was Not Fatal for Me

Reflections of an Evolving Elder: Driving Drunk was Not Fatal for Me

Shaun A. Pennington
Shaun A. Pennington (Source file photo)

In my 21 years of out-of-control drinking, before I stopped more than 37 years ago, I drove drunk many dozens of times. I am not proud of this, but it’s a fact. It is a miracle I never injured anyone, nor was I injured. For both of those facts I am eternally grateful.

On the three occasions that I recall police involvement in my drunken driving. I was never given a sobriety test, a breathalyzer or a ticket.

The incident that came to mind as I read of another killing of a Black man by a white police officer was the time I tried to wrestle my keys out of the hands of a cop.

Apparently, I was drunk enough that a friend made some boozy decision to follow me to see that I got home safely. He retold me some of the story, but not all because his head cleared when I got into the physical altercation with a police officer and my friend took off. I guess he figured I was safe at that point. Imagine being safe while surrounded by police officers. Clearly a whites-only experience.

I was in a blackout, but I do remember mouthing off when the officer threatened to “take me in,” daring him to do so.

When I “came to” the next morning, I was in my bed, and my car was in the driveway.

I was not in a jail cell or hospital or morgue.

I can only assume one of the police officers drove me home, while another followed in my car.

Reading the story in Sunday’s New York Times of Rayshard Brooks who was shot and fatally wounded by a white police officer less than an hour after police had been called to a Wendy’s in Atlanta infuriated me. Brooks had passed out in his car in the fast-food joint’s drive-through lane.

My rage rose first, for the poisonous, fatal racism surrounding all of us and threatening our Black sisters and brothers on the mainland on a daily basis, and second for the white people that I actually hear eschewing or dismissing the reality of white privilege.

This handsome 27-year-old man was shot in the back twice for the offense of passing out drunk in his car. He wasn’t even driving, for God’s sake. He was unarmed. He offered to walk home. He was polite until he was handcuffed.

I am positive I was not polite when the police pulled me over. I was most likely combative from the very moment the officer took my keys. Maybe even before. God only knows what would have happened if they had tried to handcuff me. But they didn’t.

The Times reported, “Mr. Brooks asks the officers if he can lock his car up under their supervision and walk to his sister’s house, which he says is a short distance away. ‘I can just go home,’ he says.”

Why not? Seems reasonable. I got to go home. In fact, the cops drove me home.

The killing of Mr. Brooks was a hate crime. What else would it be? Police Officer Garrett Rolfe shot Brooks in the back after harassing, handcuffing, tazing and backing him into a proverbial fear corner. Rolfe was heard to say, “I got him,” after Brooks fell to the ground, according to Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard.


The story of “Shaun attempting to wrestle the keys away from the police officer” became a funny story at cocktail parties before I quit drinking and even after.

Rayshard Brooks is dead. I too was in my mid-20s when I was stopped that time. I too had young children waiting for me at home.

The Rayshard Brooks story, however, is not funny. It is horrific, completely unjustified and criminally common in America.

Some people will blame him for his own death. If passing out in his car, is punishable by death, then why am I not dead? Because I am white. That’s why.

I hear people asking what they can do to help. Start with informing yourselves about the absolute failure of our social justice system. Read “White Fragility,” by Robin DiAngelo. Read “How to be an Anti-racist,” by Ibram X. Kendi. Read “Joy Unspeakable,” by Barbara Holmes. Read “The New Jim Crow,” by Michelle Alexander. Read “Just Mercy,” by Bryan Stevenson.

If you really want to know how we got here, read “People’s History of the United States,” by Howard Zinn.

Supported and informed by the details of injustice and racism that our country was built upon – in fact became the richest nation in the world upon – have conversations, pray for guidance and stand up for true democracy for everyone on every level. Once you have read some of the above books and searched your own soul, don’t stand for racist remarks, pay attention to the opportunities to reset our policies.

But if you don’t take the time to read and face things that might make you uncomfortable, stay out of the conversation, especially if you are white. Don’t think because you have lived your whole life in a Black community that you are exempt from embedded racism.

We are at a crossroads. And we are at somewhat of a disadvantage here in the Virgin Islands because we are far from the fiery front lines.

I asked a dear Black friend of mine recently, “What can I do?” He said he tells people, “You don’t have to have had the experience of being Black [or Black in America] in order to empathize.”

True, deeply felt empathy is the starting line in the race to truly reach liberty and justice for all.

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