Hubert Murray
3 min readApr 21, 2024

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DWBP

Friday’s diary:

It’s not often I drive through Watertown Square. It is not a place in any dignified sense of the term, rather a confluence of four principal roads and another four tributaries carrying people from some places to other places with no reason to stop. Except at the red lights. For the uninitiated driver this knot of streets is a confusing mess, at grade, badly signed, what a doctor might call an arteriovenous malformation. For the harried resident or urban flaneur it is a place without qualities, a non-place to non-visit.

So it was on a Friday night, the light falling, that I was driving with my friend K, crossing this mess of roads and lanes, coming from Cambridge going to Newton (see what I mean?). I got through the most of it but then crossing the river there was another set of lights, with a choice, indistinctly marked, of going straight (left lane) or taking a right (right lane). In a moment of hesitation, at the head of the line, I switched from left to right, aware of a car on my right, pausing uneasily astride the line until the lights turned green. K and I were talking about a trip he was going to make with his wife in the summer and how she preferred to break the journey halfway while he wanted to make it non-stop. The light turned green and off we went, still talking about how awful it is to travel in planes.

There was a flashing blue light in the rear-view mirror. You’re never quite sure if the light flashes are for you or not, until it becomes perfectly clear that they are. Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

We pull up with the police car behind us. I have wound the window down and the officer comes over. Young, and now I come to think of it, with a passing look of surprise. He tells me I cut him off at the lights and asks for my license and registration. He goes back to his car and we wait, not saying much. Whatever he’s doing it’s taking him a long time to do it but after about 15 minutes he comes back and hands me a citation, pointing out that he is only giving me a warning.

Thank you I say and off we go to our dinner party. K and I went on talking. The only comment he made, sotto voce, was that if he had been driving we would have had to pay a fine. K is Black.

So let’s rewind. I was in the left hand lane, the police car was in the right lane. K was in the passenger seat (on the right hand side) and was therefore most visible to the policeman. He probably could not see me. So, in his eyes, here is a car making a slight technical infraction when all the traffic is stationary at the light, and he sees a black person. Why not pull him over to see what’s going on? But to his surprise, when he walks up to the car, he finds a white guy driving. But he can’t walk himself back at this point so, after some deliberation, he issues a Warning.

In the spirit of reciprocity, I now offer him a Warning right back. A white man driving with a Black passenger (DWBP) in the front seat was an offence in apartheid South Africa but not in Massachusetts in 2024 — or so one is led to believe. White people might find this inference a bit of a stretch and had I not been reminded of the consequences of role reversal I could easily have driven on. Not so our Black comrades. Police take notice.

21 April 2024

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Hubert Murray

Hubert Murray is an architect based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.