CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Traffic stops are one of the most common ways that people come into contact with police. For years we’ve seen cellphone video of those traffic stops turning into confrontational and sometimes dangerous incidents and those incidents have sparked protests across the country. Some of them have turned deadly, forcing lawmakers and law enforcement to rethink policing in the community.
For Chicagoan Dwayne Bryant, a Black man, a chance encounter with a white state trooper in Indiana had a very different outcome. And as a result, Bryant is this week’s Hometown Hero.
Bryant, an activist, motivational speaker and author, was driving from Chicago to Battle Creek, Michigan, Aug. 30 for a speaking engagement addressing a group of schoolteachers before the beginning of the school year. Driving through Indiana, he missed a sign that indicated the speed limit had dropped from 70 to 60 mph.
That was when Bryant, going 80 mph, met Indiana State Trooper Aron Weller.
Because Bryant had been driving 20 mph over the limit, he was given a choice between a $500 traffic ticket or a trip to jail.
“After talking to him, he brought back a $150 ticket,” Bryant says “I said, ‘Hey, can I take a picture of it?’ He said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘I have students that believe if a Black male has an encounter with a white male officer, it’s going to be a fatality.’ And I said, ‘I want to show them that there, you’re not the only one with power in the stop. But I have power my word choices, my tone, my body language, etc.
“He said, ‘You have power?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I think so.’”
Weller paused, took the ticket back, ripped it up, and gave Bryant a warning, which was no small feat. Weller is known as “The Bulldog,” according to Bryant, because in his eight-year career, he’s written over 6,500 tickets. He had never ripped up a single one. Until Aug. 30, that is.
Bryant wrote about the encounter on social media, the post went viral and the net result of the traffic stop was an Indiana State Police training video. That video, Bryant insists, captures a valuable teaching moment for all concerned.
“I think that lesson is powerful in life. If we teach anyone that you have no power, then we’re teaching them that they’re powerless. In this encounter, even if this officer is what the FBI has said, (that) some officers are Ku Klux Klan members or neo-Nazis that are in law enforcement. Even in that particular situation, you still have to use your power, you still have to engage your mind, and also you have to engage your spirit because that’s more powerful than the physical flesh to me.”
Empathy is the key, according to the Hometown Hero.
“When we were in driver’s ed, it said when you pull up to a stop sign, you pull up, you stop, you look both ways. And I always say you have to look both ways. You look into your future. Where are you going in life? Do you want to be a positive, powerful, productive person? And then you’ve got to think about this individual who’s coming. You don’t know who he or she is, you don’t know what kind of day they had. So what I say is, everyone should be looking to bring mutual respect, shared responsibility and accountability to every police encounter. And if we do that, then chances are the probability of everyone going home safely is greatly increased.”