The Orlando police department pulled over Aramis Ayala, the only black state attorney elected in Florida’s history. The stop was incident-free, professional, courteous, and quick.
It was also completely lawful. Here’s the video, from the Orlando PD.
“Although the traffic stop appears to be consistent with Florida law,” Ayala told CNN. “[My] goal is to have a constructive and mutually respectful relationship between law enforcement and the community.”
There was no evidence in the video of personal disrespect.
As expected, the Orlando Police Department defended its officers–what they needed defense from is unclear.
The Orlando Police Department allows the running of tags “for official business only,” a practice “done routinely on patrol,” the agency said in a statement.
“In regards to the video, which was released by the Orlando Police Department last month, the officers stated the tag did not come back as registered to any vehicle. As you can see in the video, the window tint was dark, and officers would not have been able to tell who, or how many people, were in the vehicle,” the agency said.
The Tampa Bay Times checked with a local attorney, who said “I didn’t see anything wrong.” He added:
…If had to defend the case, he would have a hard time there was any type of discrimination against Ayala. He said the briefness of the interaction, as well as the explanation of the stop, shows that the officers acted reasonably, and previous U.S. Supreme Court cases have held it’s “objectively reasonable” for officers to run tags.
“It would be very difficult for me to argue that this was an illegal stop,” he said.
So, legally–and Ayala is a lawyer–there was nothing wrong. So Ayala must be referring to something else. Something deeper.
I believe the deeper thing is African-Americans being stopped for no reason, no allegation of wrongdoing, and approached by officers in their car. There’s a moment of uncertainty there. Is this going to go well or poorly? Is this going to be a Philando Castile situation?
The police are also dealing with their own private internal debate. A nondescript car with a tag that comes back “blank.” It could have been a computer data glitch. It could have been something nefarious. Police never know–it’s a hazard of the job.
“What was the tag run for?” Ayala asked. And that’s routine. Legally, police have every right to pull anyone over for anything dealing with their license plate and registration. If the color doesn’t match, or the officer thinks the tag has been moved to a different vehicle, or there are warrants on the owner, they can stop someone.
(In an aside, the officer’s “really dark” window comment was unnecessary and likely spoken out of fear of being accused of an illegal stop. Better to have too many reasons, but in this case, he had more than enough.)
No harm no foul.
But there is always potential harm, and a potential foul. Say, for instance, Ayala was armed and her pistol became visible while she was handing her license over. State attorney or not, officers might have a reason to be spooked. Or should they?
The experience of African-Americans in America dealing with police (especially white police) officers is one of tension. Sometimes imperceivable, sometimes in-your-face. I think it’s right for Ayala to work with officers, and with the African-American community, to reduce that tension.
But is she doing that, or just taking advantage of a situation that was bound to eventually happen in her job. It would be interesting to find out if Ayala was ever stopped before, and if it was by white, or African-American officers.
Her stated goal of a “constructive and mutually respectful relationship between law enforcement and the community” is one we should all agree with. That there have been instances where that relationship has been neither constructive nor mutually respectful is beyond argument.
Ayala said, “I look forward to sitting down to have an open dialogue with the Chief of Orlando Police Department regarding how this incident impacts that goal.”
But why didn’t Ayala tell CNN that she also wanted to sit down with her community in an open conversation? She handled the stop well, but many in a similar situation might react poorly.
In her 2016 campaign for the 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney position, Ayala told Orlando-Rising,
As a state attorney, I will be serving the entire circuit. We live in a very multi-cultural community,” she said. “I want to be the best candidate.”
Ayala is basing her campaign in part on her belief that the Office of the State Attorney needs to do more than prosecute criminals, it needs to step out into the community and be a voice, an advocate and a bridge to close any gaps between people and police.
It seems “the people” aren’t the ones she feels need a bridge.
In the end, maybe Ayala needs to accept two things: that stopping vehicles for a variety of reasons and with a diversity of drivers and uncertainty is a hazard of their job; and that having a confidential registration might get her stopped–that’s a hazard of her job.
It would be better if Ayala used the influence of her position in the African-American community in addition to her hinting that the problem is all on law enforcement’s end.