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Fighting the Law

Circa 1989, I was 22, my brother was 17. I was living in Wilmington for college, and brogrit drove in from our hometown to visit with me for a day or so over the weekend. We were riding around in his car (he was driving) just talking and being together a bit.

It was around midnight as we drove down Market Street, the main road through downtown. We weren’t in a hurry, we weren’t cutting up. There wasn’t anything open or happening in the downtown area that time of night, and there was almost no traffic (many of the traffic lights were in there late-night blink mode).

Then there was suddenly a car right behind us. It was right up on our bumper, and its lights were shining bright in our car. I, in the passenger seat, turned around to look at the jackass tailgating us. There was a left lane for the person behind us to pass, but he or she just stayed right on our tail. I couldn’t see any reason for him or her to be on us like that. The headlights were blinding, so I couldn’t make out anything about the car or driver behind us.

We came to an intersection with a blinking red light, and my brother stopped the car. But then he had to pull out a bit into the intersection to be able to see around the buildings to determine if the road was clear. He then went on through the intersection.

As soon as we passed the intersection, blue lights flashed from the top of the car tailgating us. Oh crap! It was a cop?

My brother pulled over, and we both started wondering why he was being stopped by a cop. Especially since the jackass had been tailgating us for a few blocks. Yeah, neither of us were too happy with the situation. We hadn’t done anything wrong.

The cop got out of his car and came to brogrit’s window. We went through the expected routine of showing license, explaining why we’re in downtown at midnight, etc. The cop told my brother that he had run a red light. Neither of us really raised a stink about it with the cop, but that just wasn’t fair. Brogrit had stopped at that red light; he just had to afterward roll forward to see around the buildings. This pull and ticket was bullshit.

After the cop left us, we left downtown and went on back to my apartment. “Damn cop working on his quota.” We both determined we would fight this ticket when the court date came up. Brogrit was determined, and I was definitely going to support him on this. It was bullshit.

A couple months later, the day before the court date, Wilmington got a rare snowfall that left a couple inches of white on the ground. On the court date, my brother came to town with our mom and dad for moral support.

We all went to the court and took our seats in the benches to await our call for justice. We watched the judge and district attorney handle several minor cases during our wait; there was nothing interesting or exciting. Then brogrit was called. I went with him to the podium in front of the judge.

We were both ready and raring to defend against the running a red light ticket. Considering the situation, it’s a good feeling to be facing a judge honestly knowing you are right and the charge is wrong. We were anxious to see justice served.

Strangely, the ticketing police officer wasn’t there. Turns out it was not his scheduled day to be in the court – he had written the wrong date on the ticket. When the judge and DA told us the mistake, we sighed and rolled our eyes, expecting to have to come back another day.

“Well,” said the judge, “let’s see what the officer wrote on the report.” He then read the report aloud. The time and location information of the report we already knew from the ticket, (and having, you know, been there), but there was one thing that ticked us off: The officer described the passenger (me) as looking back at the officer behind us as if wondering if he’d pull us for running the red light.

Total bullshit! I didn’t say it, but brogrit and I looked at each other, both obviously thinking it.

After reading the report, the judge asked where brogrit, and our mother and father, whom he noted were with us, lived. When told, the judge said he didn’t want to make them have to drive all the way back to Wilmington for another court date, especially considering they drove up with snow on the roads.

He then told brogrit to be more careful driving. It was a minor chastisement, really, but with both of us knowing the whole ticket was unfair and the report was a mischaracterization of the situation, it stung. As the judge announced he’d just throw the ticket out and let us go home, brogrit was starting to voice objection to the officer’s report. Brogrit wanted his argument, and I understood this desire –- we were right, the cop was wrong. But the judge’s words of dismissing the ticket registered with me, so I put my hand on brogrit’s arm, “Let’s go,” I said.

“But…,” brogrit started to say, but I lead him away from the podium. He was still keyed up for his argument.

Mom and Dad joined us and we left the court directly. The jokes described me having to physically pull brogrit from the courtroom as he tried to tell our side of the story, but that’s a bit of an exaggeration. He was frustrated, as was I, but the ticket was thrown out. We did win. But a win by accidental forfeit, while being unfairly chastised just didn’t sit well with us. We were prepared to fight, and win, so this kind of win left us unsatisfied.


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