Every once in a while, you hear a story from one of your friends that is hard to believe.
In addition to working for the paper as a writer, my job also is to orchestrate the delivery of the paper to local businesses.
Two of my assistants (also my friends) are Louis Avino and Randy Harris.
Lou is 60-years old, Irish-Italian and white, while Randy is a 59 year-old, brown-skinned man of Filipino/Indian/French descent.
Lou and Randy were driving on Sunday, Feb. 17 in Randy's van with Lou in the driver's seat and Randy in the passenger seat along Route 190 to Grand Island at 9:45 am, when a state trooper named Joseph A. Zupo flashed on his lights indicating to them to pull over.
The first thing Lou said he thought was that they were being pulled over because he didn't have his seat belt on. In fact, Lou's seat belt buckle was hanging out the bottom of his door (drivers side) on the outside of the van.
Randy, as is his custom, had his seat belt on.
Lou did not bother to put his seatbelt on even when the officer approached the car.
He told the Reporter, "I wasn't going to put it on. If I get a ticket, I get a ticket. Look how did I live almost 60 years deciding for myself how to be safe? Now the government is going to tell me how to protect myself? It's insulting."
Trooper Zupo came out of his car and, as is standard operating procedure, walked up to the passenger side. He asked Randy to roll down his window. Randy complied and the officer spoke not to him but to Lou and said, "Did you know that your passenger isn't wearing his seat belt?"
Randy, who said he was wearing a seatbelt at that moment and while Lou was driving, said he knew better than to complain because, he believes, being a 59-year-old dark skinned minority, arguing with a police officer is like putting gasoline on the fire and could be an easy ticket to jail.
The officer then asked for both licenses and proof of insurance before going back to his car.
The officer, returning to Randy's side, gave them back their licenses and insurance and also a ticket for Randy for no seat belt and drove off. Lou thought the whole thing was funny and laughed out loud teasing his friend Randy about his misfortune saying, “Gee, I'm glad I'm white!" Randy simply shook his head in amazement.
I'll not comment on the motives of the trooper or his competency as a traffic officer but will only say sometimes we play on an uneven playing field and we just have to take our lumps... or do we?