One very late spring evening during my last year of residency, I was driving home and got stopped at a police DUI checkpoint. I was exhausted from being up all night from being on call the night before and having been very busy had no time to shower, shave or change into my street clothes. I also got called in at 4 a.m. the previous day and had not showered or shaved that day either. You can imagine how I appeared, and being exhausted having to go through a DUI checkpoint was the last thing I wanted to do.
There were about 12 to 15 cars ahead of me, and it was warm, so I had the windows rolled down. I could hear the conversations going on between the police and the drivers ahead of me. Some of the drivers used some rather choice language, but the police did their best to try and be polite and apologized for any inconvenience. I must admit I initially intended to also express my extreme displeasure at being stopped, but as I got closer, I got to thinking. I had two little girls that often played in the street in front of our apartment. What if a drunk driver who would have injured my daughters was stopped? I asked myself how far I would go to keep my girls safe and concluded that occasionally being stopped at a DUI checkpoint was a small price to pay for their protection.
However, as I got closer something else became apparent. Some drivers were just waved through but some, all young men, were being pulled over for additional scrutiny. One actually was drunk and was arrested. I found out later that since young, disheveled looking men were the ones most likely to be drunk driving the police were instructed to give them the additional scrutiny.
In other words, they were profiled.
Although I did not realize the reason for the additional scrutiny at the time, it should come as no surprise that given my age and appearance the police took one look at me and pulled me over. I was asked to get out of the car. Trying to control my worsening anger, I was asked for my license and registration, where I came from and where I was going. By the sheerest of coincidences, there was another officer on the scene who often did duty in our ER and knew who I was. He came over, told the officer who was questioning me I was OK and apologized for any inconvenience.
I asked him how he kept his cool given the sometimes violent reaction to being stopped by some the drivers and he said, “You have no idea.” I then told him that if it kept everyone safer, the police were welcome to stop me anytime they felt the need. He and two other officers shook my hand and thanked me.
I will never know whether my children were ever saved by someone being stopped at one of these checkpoints, but I do know each of us must be willing to sacrifice a little bit of our time and convenience for the greater good, and not always look solely at how these incidences only affect us. Our lives, and those of our loved ones, may depend on it.
Thomas D. Guastavino is an orthopedic surgeon.
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