I was raised in a two-parent, middle class home safely nestled in an affluent residential neighborhood. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I began to realize that maybe I was more materially fortunate than others, especially those who looked like me. It also became clear to me that parts of civil society believed that because of the way I looked, I wasn’t necessarily entitled to any of that good fortune.
I can recall being followed by police in the neighborhood I lived in, as if I was lost or intruding. I have been followed in retail stores as if I didn’t come to shop, but to steal. I’ve had women clinch their purses in my passing and others who’ve gone as far to cross to the other side of the street after I approached them to simply ask for directions.
Perhaps my most significant experience of racial profiling happened while I was home for the holidays from college. I was driving my girlfriend home after date night when I noticed a patrol car had been trailing us closely for a few blocks. I asked her if maybe I failed to yield at a red light or stop sign, and she didn’t recall me doing so. Perhaps the police officer was just checking my license plate and once everything was verified as clean they’d be on their way?
The patrol car eventually turned on its sirens and flashing lights and I promptly pulled over in pure confusion. The officer didn’t approach my car as is routine, instead from his megaphone he instructed me to turn off my car and step outside of the vehicle. I hesitated initially because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but at the second request I got out of the car with my hands to my side. 1 patrol car and 2 officers were now 3 patrol cars and 6 officers, and all of them had drawn their guns. I was instructed to turn around, put my hands on my head, and walk backwards toward them.
After what seemed like the longest walk of my life, I reached them and they handcuffed me, took my wallet and put me in the back of the patrol car. By now officers were searching the car and my girlfriend was standing on the side of the road crying hysterically. Ten minutes later an officer pulled me from the backseat, uncuffed me, and said, “We don’t want you to think this was race related, but…we received reports of a robbery in the area and the only description we were given, was that they were black and driving a black SUV.”
I wanted to believe him.
I wanted to believe there was a young black couple home from college burglarizing homes in the area for date night, but even if that were true, that wouldn’t change the fact that 6 guns were drawn on me, or that my vehicle was unlawfully searched, or that my girlfriend had just suffered unnecessary emotional trauma. They apologized for the misunderstanding and asked if there was anything they could do. I simply asked that they apologize to my girlfriend.
The ride home after was a quiet one. And we never spoke of the incident again, not even to our parents. I’ve never committed a crime, and until that night I’d never been in handcuffs or inside a police patrol car; nor did I have a deeply personal reason to hate the police. I haven’t been put in handcuffs or inside a patrol car again – but in the 10 plus years since this incident I’ve been given several deeply personal reasons to hate the police; skin-deep personal reasons named #SandraBland and #PhilandoCastile just to name a few.
Yet, I still don’t hate the police.
Law enforcement officers have a difficult job and sometimes have to make life or death decisions on the basis of very little information. What I do hate is society’s inability to admit that like any other profession, law enforcement is not exempt from bad apples, and to be critical of the few is not an indictment of the whole. To hold officers involved in senseless murders of civilians accountable in the court of law does not compromise the professional integrity of those officers who actually serve and protect citizens. To actually stand behind the shield and say, “This officer acted criminally and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law” – and actually follow through – is not a betrayal of blue lives but a loyalty to justice.
As long as this behavior continues to go unchecked, law enforcement sends a loud and clear message that black lives really don’t matter, giving people of color every right to say #fuckthepolice.
Because of my lived experience, I have a deeply personal understanding of how the intersection of race and the criminal justice system could have cost me my life had the wrong decisions been made under pressure; but I’m keenly aware that that pressure was predicated on the pigment of my skin in the first place. And yet, I still don’t hate the police. Keep killing us however, and I won’t have many more excuses as to why I shouldn’t.
“Negroes – Sweet and docile, Meek, humble, and kind: Beware the day – They change their mind.”