There is a common misconception in the media about black people and the police. Some people trust them, some hate them, and some are indifferent. Growing up in Detroit, I was indifferent. A lot of my personal interactions were good. Police came to school to talk, Police Athletic League, and some of the officers I knew. Yet, the hardest part was knowing that I was lucky.
I would hear stories of my friends caught on the streets after dark that were roughed up and thrown in the back of the police car. Friends would tell me that the officer would ask them questions and if they didn’t like the answers, they would start driving them towards the police station instead of home, they were eight.
When I was in St. Louis last week, I heard other stories. Stories of kids in their early teens made to stand on their toes and hit in the head with night sticks. If you fell, you would get roughed up and tossed in the car. If you didn’t, they would mess with you until you did. A lot of the same things happened in different areas across the US to people who looked like me.
Eventually, we start to develop a fear of the police. A police car rolls up slowly and you don’t know what will happen. They may just drive by to show presence, to ensure everything stays quiet, they might walk around for a while. The funny thing is that the average black person would quickly call the police if in trouble, but still be worried about the outcome. Especially with many of the older generation remembering Detroit in 1967. I never was allowed on the streets late. You were in by the time the street lights were on.
I never really had much negative contact with the police as a kid. I never got into much trouble, even when I met the neighborhood gang members. The old heads said, “This life ain’t for you. You got too much potential. Go home or else I’ll make you go home.” I never saw that side of the life but watched how my friends big brothers and parents were sent in and out of jail.
I always thought bad people ended up with bad interactions with the police. Where they were they shouldn’t be? What were they doing? Something had to make their situations different from mine. That was how I thought until I hit my late teens.
I started learning how to drive from my friends letting my borrow their cars. I had an old permit but I never had my chance to get my full license until I was 21. Before then, there was a time that my friend started having an allergic reaction and I was using his car to get medicine from Wal-Mart. Cops pulled me over because I turned from the turning lane too widely. I gave the officer the car’s registration, insurance, and my permit but that wasn’t enough.
He asked me to get out the car. I asked him if something was wrong? He said, “only if you have something to hide.” I told him my friend was sick and I was going to get supplies from Wal-Mart. He nodded dismissively and started to search the car. I didn’t know that this was illegal. I never been pulled over, smoked, or even drank before but by myself, off of a major highway, I was being patted down and searched by two white officers at 11pm searching for drugs because eventually, “I fit the description”. The found nothing and let me go. I was out there for 45 minutes.
After that, I was stopped and pulled over for any little thing. I’ve been pulled over for taking too wide of a turn, having my parking permit hanging off my rearview, holding my signal too long, holding it too little, and a dirty license plate to name some of the smallest infractions.
I’ve had speeding tickets for getting caught by speed traps, I take responsibility for those, but I’ve been stopped because the officer followed me for five blocks because I went to pick up a pizza during “bar hopping” hours. Eventually the petty tickets piled up so high I couldn’t pay them and my insurance both, which only made the stops more frequent. I would get stopped for something silly and get tagged for the no-insurance claims. It was so bad because I got tired of getting pulled over that I just got rid of my car, that was 2013 and I just got my license back.
That’s the special reason I am so dismayed by the Philando Castile case. I’ve been that guy that is too poor to pay for the silly tickets but need a car to get to work and get paid. On my way to work, I would get stopped, ticket would be $100+ and that would be an entire weeks worth of pay minus the gas to get me there. Then, I would be short on rent. I couldn’t pay anymore and get my car towed. Then on top of bail, it would be $75/night to get my car out of the lot. The small citations can be insurmountable sometimes. So, I had to step away from any situation that would lead to trouble but I was lucky.
I was lucky that I am in school and have been able to live my past four years close to where I needed to be. I am lucky that I’ve had friends mobile or in similar jobs that didn’t mind picking me up. I’ve been lucky that my family kept me off the streets when I was young. I was lucky that when I was stupid on the streets that I never did anything too outlandish that would have completely ruined my life, but I have been close. I’ve been lucky to have seen the spectrum of experiences and even talk to people who have survived both sides. I have family that are officers and that are on the other side. None of them are bad people and are all just trying to make it through.
This past year, I worked with the Town of Chapel Hill and met some amazing officers. They were great guys and really likable, but I still get nervous. I sat down and had long conversations about Police Brutality with Chief Blue and we went back and forth. He explained a lot of the logistical issues and personal struggles for officers. It was enlightening but still sad because the week that I had my ride-along with the officers, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas shooting happened. (Story in the future)
I’ve learned that minority/police relations are never easy. I’ve been to places where I’ve been targeted and shady actions occurred. I’ve also been to places where officers are honorable and just trying to figure things out like we are. The hardest part is that after years of certain experiences, you retain those coping behaviors. I am still afraid when I see officers even if I haven’t done anything wrong. I am scared to buy a new car because driving is just stressful to me now. Constantly seeing these interactions gone wrong worry me about if I’d be next. Because of these feelings, I find myself clinging even harder to my faith. I pray for protection every day because I just want to make it home. Black Lives Matter isn’t about Police hatred, it’s about recognizing that me having this fear of officers continuously is irrational but a response to something broken in the system that needs to be fixed.
Turn Our Brightness Up!