On May 20, Miss Black Texas U.S., Carmen Ponder, was driving to Walmart to pick up some items. During her drive to the store, she became troubled by the actions of the driver ahead of her, who was weaving in and out of lanes, abruptly stopping, and at times seeming to rapidly accelerate for no reason. Out of concern for her own safety, Ponder signaled and passed this driver, then proceeded into the Walmart parking lot, where she planned on parking, then entering the store, making her purchases, and going about her day.
But that’s not what happened.
Ponder was followed into the Walmart parking lot by the driver she had passed and was stopped by the passenger in the car — Kerry Crews, who is the police chief of Commerce, Texas.
Ponder claims that Crews confronted her in the parking lot as she attempted to make her way into the store with an expletive-laced rant about why it was unacceptable for her to pass his vehicle, going so far as to allegedly call Ponder, “You black bitch.”
Allegedly, the driver of the vehicle was Crews’s 14-year old child, to whom he was giving driving lessons despite the child’s not holding a learner’s permit and therefore not legally able to operate a vehicle.
Ponder made her way past Crews and his screaming and into the store. Yet, after making her purchases and returning to her car in the parking lot, Ponder was met by an additional police presence. Joining Crews, Ponder says, was a plain-clothes officer who informed her that the man she had angered was the chief of police and that she owed him an apology for her behavior. When Ponder declined to offer an apology, she says the plain-clothes officer then shouted, “You’re not going anywhere. You’re being detained.”
Ponder called the police, and when additional officers arrived at the scene, they were allegedly told by Crews and the plain-clothes officer that Ponder was evading arrest. At that point, Ponder was taken into custody and spent 24 hours in jail. As Ponder puts it, her only crime was “the color of my skin.”
Ponder, an intern at the Hunt County, Texas, district attorney’s office, had started a YouCaring campaign to help cover the costs of her attorney’s fees and city charges (it has since been taken down), as the city is pursuing criminal charges against her in addition to the charge of evading arrest and detention. On her YouCaring page, Ponder had written that she refuses “to take a plea deal and [is] more than willing to go to trial, but that takes time and money.”
Ponder’s story is a classic example of what is widely regarded as “driving while black,” or the systemic and well-documented practice of black drivers being pulled over by a police officer, questioned, searched, or worse as a result of racial profiling.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported that in Florida in 2014, black drivers received nearly 22 percent of all seat belt citations even though they made up just 13.5 percent of the state’s drivers and seat belt compliance was found to be 91.5 percent for white drivers and 85.8 percent for black drivers. The ACLU analysis found that if black drivers in Florida had been ticketed for seat belt violations in proportion to their representation among drivers in the state, black drivers should have actually received 20,000 fewer citations that year. The rate at which black drivers were issued citations for lack of seat belt compliance was, in fact, proportionally almost double to what it was for white drivers.
Comedian Chris Rock has also tweeted a number of photos of himself upon being pulled over by police while driving. In one such photo, Rock notes that he wasn’t even driving, but was simply a passenger.
Ponder’s story is also disturbingly similar to that of Sandra Bland. While driving to begin her new job at Prairie View A&M University, a historically black college from which Bland herself had graduated, the 28-year old was pulled over, arrested, and then found dead in her Texas jail cell. Dashcam video revealed that Bland was pulled over by a Texas state trooper after allegedly failing to use her turn signal. The situation escalated after Bland refused to put out her cigarette when talking to the trooper, who then proceeded to physically pull Bland out of her vehicle, slam her head to the ground, and arrest her.
Yahoo Beauty has reached out to Ponder for comment and will update once we hear back.
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