[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. Follow him on twitter and also check out his archives.]
Several hours after they crossed the Arizona border, the nauseating flash of lights and sirens forced their rented car to the roadside. The Pillsbury-faced cop commanded the driver to step outside the vehicle.
The charge: exceeding the speed limit by three miles an hour.
“I repeatedly apologized and told him we’re in a band?… the car is new…?I’m still getting a handle,” recalls Busdriver, L.A. art-rap legend, who was driving with his tourmates, rapper Milo and producer Kenny Segal.
“We made headway until he took my license and said it’s suspended,” Busdriver continues. “That was news to me. Then he called for backup.”
En route to a show in New Mexico, the trio had the misfortune of “driving while black” through Payson, Arizona — a rural town whose claim to fame is “the longest continuous rodeo in the world.” Its population is 15,000. Ninety-five percent are white; 0.26 percent are black. If Chuck D had a place in mind when he wrote “By the Time I Get to Arizona,” it’s Payson.
A second cop arrived in khakis and jackboots. After interrogating Busdriver, the two cops retreated to discuss strategy. A choice was made; one of the cops returned.
“Why are you sweating?” he quizzed Busdriver.
“It’s 86 degrees?… a little warm.”
“I’m wearing a Kevlar vest. I’m not sweating,” the cop responded. Then he proceeded to bark more questions:
“Are you sick? On medication? On morphine? Dead bodies in the trunk? Drugs? Weapons?”
Busdriver responded “No, sir,” to each. Nonetheless, the cop opted to bring his drug-sniffing dog to investigate further.
“There was no sign that the dog had detected anything,” Busdriver says. “He went in anyway.”
Sans warrant, the cop unlocked the trunk and searched multiple times through each bag. Finally, he found less than a gram of marijuana belonging to Segal, the vehicle’s lone white passenger. Segal has a California medical prescription but forgot to bring it on tour.
Busdriver, who did have his medical card, attempted to claim the weed, but the cops refused. Instead, they slapped Segal in handcuffs and recruited a third cop from a nearby Indian reservation to bring him to Gila County jail.
“They told me I faced two felony counts — one for weed and one for the container of weed,” Segal recalls. “When I asked the cop why [two charges], he said, ‘To be honest, I don’t know. In the next year, we’ll probably follow California and decriminalize it, or at least make it a ticket.”
At the jail, Segal called a bondsman to secure the $3,000 bail. Told that the bondsman could be there in minutes, Segal instead spent seven hours waiting without additional information. “If he wants to come get you, he will,” was all the jailhouse officials would say. The bail bondsman eventually showed, but the delay forced the group to miss that night’s show in New Mexico.
“It confirmed that the fiction is reality,” Milo says. “It read like a clichéd script about some black guys pulled over in Arizona.”
To date, no charges against Segal have been filed. But he was told that he’ll need to call the courthouse monthly for the next seven years to see when or if he’ll have to report back.
This wasn’t an isolated incident. The trio has been pulled over twice more in other states in as many weeks. No reasons were given. They merely “fit the profile of a suspect.”
“If you don’t understand that there’s an inherent racial bias in America, then you’re intellectually dishonest to the highest degree,” Busdriver says.
As for Segal, he “had never been through anything like that in his entire life,” Busdriver adds. “He was, like, ‘What the fuck is going on?’ I told him, ‘Kenny, you just got some nigga shit thrown in your lap.’?”
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