Traffic court is full. People sit chin in hand, eyelids heavy. Some stomp out of the courtroom, then return a few minutes later. Others grimace, checking their watches and rolling their eyes. And some are not so silent: “What the f—, bruh. I got places to be.”
It is a recent Wednesday at the Durham County Courthouse, and even Judge Pat Evans wants to get a move on. She sits at the bench in her robe with her long black hair, gray at the roots, pulled tight in a ponytail. She sticks to a script: call a name, hear a case, make a ruling, repeat.
The defendants don’t stick to the same script. They bring the wrong papers, they go to the wrong place, and they come late, or not at all.
Of those who make it, most accept blame for their tickets, pay a fine, and get out. Few contest their citations, and fewer win.
On this day, Anthony Rashad Floyd chose to be one of the few. And soon, the courtroom would understand why.
Floyd, a Durham resident, arrives at court on time in a yellow polo shirt, black jeans and loafers. He appears to be in his 40s. As he waits in the gallery, yellow light reflects off his diamond earrings.
Three months ago, Floyd was driving down route 70 on his way to JJ Fish & Chicken in Durham for an early dinner. It was 5 p.m. and there was heavy traffic. “Bumper to bumper,” he said.
On this much, Floyd and the deputy who cited him agree. Beyond that, their stories conflict.
On the stand, Floyd says when his turn came, he put on his blinker and moved into the center lane. Then he says he decided he could wait to eat, so he signaled and merged back out to head home. That’s when Deputy T. Hatch pulled him over.
“You gotta be kidding,” says a voice in the courtroom as Floyd tells his story. “Can’t believe he took this to trial.”
Center lane violations rarely make it to court. Most people prefer a small fine to a morning in traffic court. Floyd is not most people.
“It’s about principle,” Floyd said in an interview. “I didn’t do anything wrong, and I am not gonna let an officer take advantage of me like I know they do.”
In May 2020, Floyd’s first cousin was murdered in a Minneapolis street by a police officer who pinned him to the ground for more than nine and a half minutes until he stopped breathing. This cousin’s name was George Floyd.
When Anthony Floyd announces this to the court, those listening in the gallery don’t believe him. Some laugh.
“Yeah, right,” says a voice in the back.
Others remain quiet, unsure how to react.
Anthony says that he and George were “tight.” After George’s death, Anthony went to marches with family and yelled “say his name” with a fist in the air. He has photos of himself the day before the funeral standing with George’s attorney, Al Sharpton, and Joe Biden.
He’s still in disbelief about his cousin’s death. He’s also more uneasy around police. When Hatch pulled him over, Floyd’s face got hot. He didn’t know why he was being stopped. Hatch told him he didn’t signal when he switched lanes. Floyd replied that he did, and he would fight this in court.
“That’s your right,” Hatch said before returning to his patrol car.
Floyd knows his rights.
Aside from a speeding ticket at 16, Floyd’s never been in trouble with the law.
“I was on point with everything,” he said in court. “So as far as being behind the wheel, I made sure that at all times, especially since what happened to my cousin, that I follow all the rules. That’s how I know for a fact I used my turn signal. The dashcam footage will show that. Where is the dashcam footage?”
He asks this question 12 times in court. No one gives a clear answer.
“That’s a whole process,” Hatch says.
At George Floyd’s trial, video was a star witness. Jurors watched film from cell phones, body cams, dash cams, and surveillance cams. Video footage brought justice for George. Anthony wants it to do the same for him, but Hatch doesn’t want to deal with the “process.” It seems that Evans doesn’t either.
Once Hatch and Anthony are done testifying, she rules.
“Your cousin has nothing to do with this matter,” she says. “The citation stands.”
Anthony stays still for a moment. He turns to look at the people in the gallery behind him, but they avoid eye contact. He looks back at the judge, but she’s moved on.
When Anthony stands and heads out of the courtroom, people turn their heads to watch him leave. He walks down the hall outside alone, mumbling to himself.
He talks about the dash cam footage. He wonders if he needs to come back to court. He realizes he forgot to mention the van in front of him that did the same thing. He doesn’t know if he owes or what he owes or how to pay.
He says he does know he did nothing wrong. He knows that he fought for justice.
“And it felt good.”
Clarification: An earlier version of this story said that Anthony Rashad Floyd met Joe Biden at George Floyd’s funeral. They actually met the day before the funeral, which Biden did not attend in person.