He’s Facing Jail Time For Not Saying ‘Sorry’ To A Cop

a statue of a lady of justice hold a scale of justice
Zain Murdock
May 29, 2024

Last December, a white police officer pulled over Reginald Burks after using cruise control to estimate his speed. After writing the ticket, the officer stood before his car, refusing to move. An annoyed Burks responded, “Get your ass out of the way so I can take my kids to school. That’s why y’all underpaid because y’all act dumb.” Does that reply warrant jail time?

Burks paid over $200 in fines and court fees for allegedly going three miles over the speed limit. But then the judge added another crime, which was cursing, and another punishment, which was either writing the cop an apology letter or spending up to 30 days in jail. Historically, this isn’t new.

Cops, judges, and other authorities are people with power in their job descriptions. But, considering the racial construction of the U.S., whiteness holds that power, too. That’s how Jim Crow etiquette enforced respect: “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am” for whites, and “boy” and “gal” for us.

By “talking back,” Burks broke racial law. Refusing to pen the letter sends the message that neither the cop nor the judge deserves his respect or obedience. They’re regular people deputized by anti-Blackness and legal power. And they’re wasting his time.

It’s worth interrogating the idea that authorities deserve respect, resources, and power. Just because they do have it doesn’t mean they should.