Given problems that persist between police and minorities in this country, Julian Garcia wasn’t sure how this traffic stop would go.
In late September Garcia got pulled over for a lane violation in Republic, a town of about 16,000 in southwestern Missouri.
Garcia, 32, who lives in nearby Springfield, wrote about it later on his Facebook page, setting up the scenario this way: “I wanna talk about racial injustice versus my experience this morning.
“As I drove home from the gym, I, this MEXICAN AMERICAN, got pulled over for a lane infraction by a WHITE police officer.”
And, Garcia noted, he had a loaded (and licensed) gun in the car.
“You start thinking back to all these stories and things that have happened, so that kind of ran through my mind briefly,” Garcia, who works in retail sales, told KY3 in Springfield.
“But at the same time I remembered I kind of had a script in my head if I ever did get pulled and had my firearm, what I would say and how I would react and how I would expect the officer to react.
“It can get pretty ugly, pretty quick, and it was nice to not have that happen, and have what I thought would happen actually happen.”
In the end he was so grateful about how the traffic stop unfolded that he thanked the police on Facebook in a post that caught a lot of attention and prompted discussion about racial profiling and how motorists behave when they’re pulled over for traffic stops.
“It’s a difficult time to be a police officer at all,” Officer Nicholas Preator, who pulled over Garcia, told KY3.
“I have only been a police officer for seven years, but a lot of the senior officers who have been for 20 or 25 tell me that it’s the most difficult time law enforcement has experienced.”
In his own post on the department’s Facebook page, Republic Police Chief Mike Lawton lauded Garcia’s behavior during the stop.
“Mr. Garcia was concerned about being stopped by the police but he showed respect and compliance to the Officer and in turn got the same back,” Lawton wrote. “Good job on both sides of this contact.”
Garcia got pulled over because he pulled into a left-turn lane too soon. He didn’t know that was against the law and had never seen anyone get pulled over for it, he wrote.
“Anyways, I rolled down my window and had my hands at 3 and 9 on the steering wheel, shaking violently almost like I’m on something because I’m usually that way for about 20 minutes after an intense workout,” Garcia wrote.
Preator asked him whether there was a reason he was in such a hurry, according to Garcia’s recounting of the stop.
“Officer, before we go any further I would like to notify you that I have a weapons permit and I have a loaded firearm under my right elbow. For your safety and mine, how would you like to proceed?” Garcia told Preator, who thanked Garcia for telling him.
Then Preator told Garcia his license plates were expired. Did you know that, he asked?
Garcia told him he had just had the car inspected so he could buy new plates and offered to show the inspection receipt.
When Preator asked to see the receipt, along with Garcia’s license and proof of insurance, Garcia told him that his wallet was in his gym bag and his insurance card in the glove box.
“I’ll reach slowly for them. I’m sorry I’m shaking, I promise I’m not nervous, but I just left the gym, as you can see by my sweaty shirt and towel and gym bag. I’ll also give you my weapons permit,” Garcia said he told Preator.
Garcia says he apologized for not knowing the law regarding the lane change and promised to get new plates soon.
After Preator ran Garcia’s license and found he had a clean driving record, he let Garcia go with just a warning.
“Get your license plates taken care of,” Preator said, according to Garcia. “I’ll be patrolling this intersection regularly going forward, just to warn you. I would like to not have to pull you over for this.”
Garcia was not angry that the cop pulled him over.
“This Caucasian officer had every right to profile me,” he wrote. “I looked like hell, broke a law regarding lane infraction, broke another law by having a vehicle not licensed properly, I’m Mexican, and on top of that, I had a LOADED firearm.
“Yet there was mutual respect, up front honesty, and grace given to me. Thank you officers for the crap you all have to endure. This (usually) law abiding citizen appreciates you for protecting us, and keeping us safe.”
Some of Garcia’s Facebook followers pushed back a bit on his story, pointing out that not every traffic stop involving minority drivers has this kind of happy ending.
“I understand, but these viral videos of people treating officers so disrespectfully when being pulled over doesn’t help,” Garcia responded to one woman.
Another woman challenged Garcia’s assumption that the cop was profiling.
“I don’t think he profiled you,” she wrote. “When you pull into a turn lane too early, you block other cars from accessing the lane properly. I’ve almost hit vehicles that were already in the Turn lane when I followed the lines to get into a turn lane.”
Garcia said he didn’t think Preator was “profiling.”
“But once he saw me, and saw (my) last name, and knew I was armed, he could have changed his tune,” he wrote.
Lawton expanded on Garcia’s account by acknowledging that “not every contact the Police have with people will turn out positive.” Then the police chief admittedly stuck his neck out.
“I may take some heat for this but I believe dignity and respect is required on both sides of police contacts for us to move forward in this national debate,” Lawton wrote. “We live in a very contrary world today where it is acceptable and sometimes expected to confront, disagree, resist, challenge and argue with everyone about everything.
“Social media only plays into that by encouraging everyone to comment anonymously without any person to person accountability. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of social media, I just recognize that negative side (effects) sometimes come from the best things on this earth.”
One man commenting on Lawton’s post wondered why the story of a traffic stop that went well was “news.”
“The man stopped was not an a** to the officer. as he was supposed to be. That let the officer do his job as it should. It happens all day, every day. Why is this any big deal?” the man asked.
For three reasons, the chief wrote back.
“First, it shows to the public in a real life contact the safest way to conduct yourself in a vehicle stop by police,” Lawton wrote.
“Second, it demonstrates for those who may believe that bias occurs in every contact with the Police, that it is not true.
“Third, it shows that people’s opinions are changeable when reasonableness and good human interactions occur.”
The man wrote back: “I just think that is the way things should be conducted. I am not a big believer in giving participation medals for doing exactly what you are supposed to.”
The police chief’s response: “Then your message is that what you saw here was what you expect every time. That is our message also. See, we were closer than you originally thought.”
Garcia told the TV station he wasn’t trying to make a political statement with his post.
“It wasn’t anything politically charged, it was just hey, here’s all the nasty stuff that happens. Let me share what happened with me this morning,” he said.