“It’s dark. I’m scared. You see what’s happening on the news, right? Y’all kill Black people. I don’t wanna get killed. You guys shoot. I don’t wanna get shot. I wanna be safe. And, besides, I didn’t commit any traffic violation,” said Rodney Gillespie, a wealthy 52-year-old international pharmaceutical executive with no criminal record whatsoever, in response to a state trooper who asked why he didn’t stop immediately.
It was then that the officer incredibly said, “One of my best friends is a Black trooper that works with me. I don’t wanna hear that nonsense.”
Gillespie recently told me during an in-depth and personal Tribune interview what happened during a frightening and potentially life-or-death encounter with Pennsylvania State Police officers on July 8 at 1:02 a.m. in the driveway of his palatial Delaware County home in upscale Chadds Ford, where he and his family have lived for over a decade.
And if you think my phrase “potentially life-or-death encounter” is hyperbole, just ask innocent, non-threatening Black motorists like Sean Bell, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher, Samuel DuBose, Jordan Edwards, D’Ettrick Griffin, Manuel Loggins Jr., Jerame Reid, Walter Scott, Terrence Sterling, and far too many others. Well, you can ask, but they can’t answer because they were killed by law enforcement officers.
In the SUV with Gillespie was his 52-year-old wife, Angela, and 17-year-old daughter. Angela Gillespie has described the confrontation by stating, “Oh my god ... I was too afraid to bend down and get my phone out of my purse ... underneath my lap. I didn’t want to move. I was afraid that I wouldn’t live.”
Here’s what happened. While returning from a family gathering with relatives in New Jersey, Gillespie was approximately two miles from home on Route 1 when he passed a marked State Police car. He wasn’t concerned because he was obeying all traffic laws. Despite that, he noticed the troopers following him for nearly three minutes. When he was close to his residential street, he saw and heard police lights and sirens. Because of the nighttime darkness and unsafe narrowness of the street, he proceeded a very short distant under the speed limit to what he described as the brightness and safety of his driveway.
At that point, the troopers, who were directly behind him, jumped out of their vehicle, with one yelling aggressively, “Get outta the car! Turn it off!” Gillespie responded, “It’s already off” while he kept both hands visible at the top of the steering wheel.
As soon as Gillespie exited the car, a trooper asked if he had “weapons, a gun, or drugs” to which Gillespie replied, “No. I don’t have anything.” That trooper also disrespectfully asked if “they” were his girlfriends with him in the SUV. With righteous indignation, Gillespie told him they were his wife and their daughter.
Shortly afterward, he was placed in handcuffs while his trembling spouse asked permission from the second trooper to use her phone to Google her husband’s name to show the troopers where he works in order to prove their financial ability to live in that neighborhood. Once the trooper allowed her to do so, he then removed the handcuffs.
There was absolutely no legal basis whatsoever for the troopers to have followed and stopped Gillespie. This was, as Angela Gillespie has described it, simply a case of “DWB — Driving While Black.”
Despite that, the officers issued two motor vehicle code violation citations, one for Section 3325 concerning “Duty of Driver on Approach of Emergency Vehicle” and the other for Section 3309 concerning “Failure to Drive Within a Single Lane.” But 3325 was withdrawn by a trooper on July 17 and 3309 was dismissed by a judge on Nov. 19.
Shortly after the July incident, Gillespie filed a complaint of racial profiling against the Pennsylvania State Police. That means that since 2016, there have been 33 such complaints. On Sept. 20, the State Police formally announced that it had investigated itself and had concluded — exactly as it had in each of the other 32 cases — that there was no racial profiling in Gillespie’s case. By the way, did I mention that the Pennsylvania State Police is nearly 95 percent white? Well, it is.
And did I mention that on Aug. 5, this 95 percent white police force assigned a ... um ... ah ... um ... Black spokesperson to make a statement to the Inquirer denying racial profiling? Well, it did. And here it is: “I’ve reviewed all of those [complaints] because I’ve been in this position [as the State Police Heritage Affairs Commander] since 2017. What I found is a lot of people get pulled over for a traffic violation, then when they end up with a citation, they get upset so they file a complaint with regard to bias-based profiling.” He said that. He actually said that. I think that commander’s name is Clarence Thomas or Ben Carson. But if it’s not, it certainly should be.
Also, did I mention that the Pennsylvania State Police in 2012 secretly stopped collecting data about the race of the drivers its (nearly all-white) 4,700 troopers pull over? Well, it did. I wonder why. Hmm ... Maybe we should ask that ... um ... ah ... Black spokesperson guy.
The fact that the Gillespies are wealthy and live in an expensive neighborhood probably saved their lives. Can you imagine what would have happened under similar circumstances to unemployed Raheem pulling up next to the projects in North Philly?
As Gillespie told me at the conclusion of the interview, “My fight isn’t necessarily for me. I want to make sure this kind of thing — or worse — doesn’t happen to other people. I want the State Police to be held accountable.”
So do we, bro. So do we.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinions on phillytrib.com.