When Terrorism Wears A Badge

UPDATE: I sent out an open invitation on twitter to anyone that wanted to share their experience with police. This post will continue to be updated with those stories.

Over the past three weeks there have been three separate incidents of police brutality that have led to the deaths of three unarmed Black men. For many Black people, myself included, the moments following these tragic events are filled with despair, sorrow, anger, and frustration. Each incident serves as a reminder that as a Black man in America my life holds little to no value in the eyes of the general public. To be young and Black in the United States means to live under constant pressure, something most non-Black American citizens know nothing about.

For the majority of Black people the police do not represent protection or safety, rather they are a menacing force that terrorize those they are supposed to serve. I have never felt safe in the presence of law enforcement. In fact, whenever police are in close proximity to me I feel in danger. Whenever a cop drives behind me or beside me I feel anxious, not protected.

Is my paranoia justified?

I have no criminal record, however I have had numerous run-ins with the police, none of which my actions provoked. The most common of course is being followed around a store. I have never committed a traffic violation but I have been pulled over several times. A few of those times I was asked to step out of my vehicle to be frisked and forced to sit on the curb in humiliation while being verbally intimidated and having my car searched. The reasons I was given as to why this type of action was necessary or to why I was even pulled over to begin with were always made up out of thin air.

Several years ago I lived in the suburbs of Louisville, KY where my parents had purchased a home in a newly developed subdivision. We lived there for a couple of years when one day while driving out of the subdivision I was signaled to pull over by two police cruisers. I was accused of burglarizing the home of a White neighbor. Being the only Black kid in the entire subdivision, it came as no surprise that I was singled out. A few years after that, in the same subdivision, my brother and my best friend had their cars broken into outside of our house. When the police arrived I was obtained and questioned as if I was a suspect.

Constant harassment is dehumanizing, but I'm thankful to God that those are the worst of my experiences as many Black Americans have had similar ones that resulted in arrest, injury, and/or even death. I'm well aware of the experiences of others and they add to the trauma. Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, or John Crawford could have easily been me...or my brother...or my father.

Cornel West once said, "9/11 was the first time that many Americans of various colors felt unsafe, unprotected, subject to random violence, and hated." Since then, through the "war on terror" and the influence of xenophobia in the mainstream media the face of terrorism has been Muslim extremists. But as Dr. West also mentioned, "To be Black in America for 400 years is to be unsafe, unprotected, subject to random violence, and hated." The terror that I experience as a Black person in 21st century America is nothing new. Black people have been exposed to domestic terrorism for centuries. Slavery was a form of terrorism. Jim Crow was a form of terrorism. Lynching was a form of terrorism. The prison industrial complex/mass incarceration is a form of terrorism. Police brutality is a form of terrorism.

More Americans have lost their lives at the hands of police since 9/11 than in acts officially classified as terrorism. A 2012 study done by Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, an antiracist grassroots activist organization, showed that 1 Black man is killed every 28 hours by police, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes. The militarization of police departments nationwide and the over-policing of urban neighborhoods have had terrorizing effects on the Black population. There are also programs like stop-and-frisk that make racial profiling and over-policing legal. At its peak in 2011, 685,724 people were stopped. Of those stopped 53 percent were Black, 34 percent were Latino, and 9 percent were White. 88 percent of all people stopped were innocent. Gang injunctions are another method of enforcement that lead to racial profiling and the over-criminalization of youth.

What am I to do? What are we to do? Often I'm reminded by others of respectability politics. I should dress nicer and talk more proper. But, I grew up with images of upstanding citizens in suits and ties being dragged by police dogs and hosed down during peaceful protests. The same people that think that my appearance will keep me safe also tell me that I should focus my outrage at Blacks killing other Blacks (as if I'm not already) because that's what's really harming the Black community. But that only serves to derail the conversation at hand. Black on Black violence is a myth. As Jamelle Bouie notes, "Yes, from 1976 to 2005, 94 percent of black victims were killed by black offenders, but that racial exclusivity was also true for white victims of violent crime—86 percent were killed by white offenders. Indeed, for the large majority of crimes, you’ll find that victims and offenders share a racial identity, or have some prior relationship to each other. What [others] miss about crime, in general, is that it’s driven by opportunism and proximity."

The reality is that we (Black men and women) have multiple sources of forced coercion coming at us. The psychological and emotional toll this has on Black folk can no longer be downplayed or ignored. My paranoia is justified. Our paranoia is justified. It doesn't matter how we dress, how we talk, what our socio-economic status is, if we are unarmed, or even if we are injured and seeking help, we are still seen as threats. We must protect ourselves. We must protect our communities. We must stand up in the face of brutality and fight to change the unjust conditions we are forced to live in.

My First Police Encounter

September of 2009 was my first run in with police. At the time I was working at a Club out in the suburbs, as an in-house promoter. I handled most of the marketing and Social Media promotion for the Club and on this particular day our Manager called for an emergency meeting to make sure everything was planned and prepared for the weekend. I picked up my friend Mark from his Grandmother's house and headed to the meeting around 7pm. On the way we shared a joint which we tossed before we arrived at the club. The meeting only lasted about 2 hrs, but we ended up staying and partying a bit, fore another promoter was running the club that night. Around 11:30 we headed back toward Mark's Grandmother's crib, vowing to make it an early night because we had a lot to do the next day.

I pulled up to his grandmother's apartment complex around midnight. We sat in the car for about 10 mins discussing our plans for tomorrow, and right as we ended our conversation; there was a knock on my driver side window. Startled as fuck because I was looking towards the passenger's side, I turn around to see not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 officers at my driver's door. He shined the light in my car and knocked again, asking me what I was doing, motioning to roll down the window, and trying my door handle all at the same time. Still a little shocked I cracked the window. "I smell it, get out." The Officer ordered. There weren't any drugs in the car so we happily complied. The officer doing all the talking was a sergeant, lieutenant, or somebody in charge because he was telling the other three officers what to do. By his orders, tone and how much direction he was giving the other officers seemed to be new hires and unfortunately we were their practice mission.

I was literally giving Mark the "goodbye handshake" when the cop knocked and I just keep thinking, "Why the fuck didn’t I just pull off." I also thought of how many times we have chilled in front of his grandmother's house till 5 and 6 in the morning having those late night conversations, and how this has never happened. There were no cop cars in sight, they had walked from the other side of the complex literally just looking for someone outside.

We got out and they escorted us to the back of the car while two officers searched inside. The lead officer was giving the trainee directions on how to question us. He had us empty our pockets and asked for our licenses. Mark didn’t have his, because he doesn’t drive. We were in South Louisville. When the lead officer saw my West Louisville address he said "you're awful far from home, what are you doing way out here at this time of night." This was the first of many times an officer has said that when looking at my license. I lived about an 8 minute expressway drive from Mark's Grandmother and I’ve always resented the fact that cops act as if I shouldn’t be anywhere but the West. Like, I've heard that "awful far from home" line at least 4 times. I told the officer that I was dropping my friend off at his grandmother's house. That’s when he separated us, having me go sit on the apartment steps while they questioned Mark. The two cops inside the car had come up empty and the lead officer did another thorough search, again coming up empty handed. Now visibly frustrated the officer asked what apartment Mark lived in, he pointed towards his grandmother's door and then the cop asked how he could be sure if he didn’t have his license. He was just going to give us citations, but because of this, he was going to take Mark to jail for trespassing, and loitering until he could find out who he was. That’s when I stepped in and said "I was dropping him off at his Grandmother's but he lives with me, just use my address." One of the training officers nodded in agreement, we had no drugs, guns or bombs and the other officers were kind of pacing, disappointed and ready to keep moving. The lead officer insisted on giving us trespassing citations and had the officer who showed the most compassion write them out for us. Once handing us our citations, they left continuing their stroll through the apartment complex.

The next day Mark's grandmother was evicted from her apartment. The lead officer had showed back up and went to the rental office to see if Mark was on the lease. He wasnt and that was a violation of the terms of the leasing agreement. Mark's granny, who was really his great granny was 70+ at the time and recently restricted to an oxygen tank. This eviction left Mark homeless and his granny placed in an asisted living facility where she passed less than 6 months later. The cop literally changed the course of our lives. Mark bounced from home to home all summer before finally finding somewhere to live. He was unceremoniously separated from the woman who raised him because a cop was pissed he couldn’t find the non-existent weed; a woman that needed her grandson. I don’t even think words can express how much the cop fucked up everyone's lives. I went to court over my charges where they were dismissed before I even stood infront of the judge. I also received a letter from the apartment complex informing me of a life time ban. Fuck Watterson Lakeview Apartments by the way.

This was my first encounter with the cops and this is what I learned. 1) If Police cant find anything wrong, they'll make something up. 2) Sitting in the car talking after midnight is suspicious behavior. 3) I can be arrested and charged by simply visiting a friend, and I should only hang out in my neighborhood. 4) Police often throw racial and sexist jokes and say things to provoke a reaction. 5) They didn’t believe a word I said. So I don’t know why they even questioned us. 6) The only time police go above and beyond the call of duty is to be particularly nasty. I mean dude, eviction? Really? Life time ban? Really? 7) They're not here to protect us, but to hurt us however possible.

I'm from an upper middle class home and was raised to believe that if you stay out of the police's way you won't have a problem. But what if they're in your way? We were sitting about 20ft from Mark's doorstep when the police confronted us. We were literally at home. And after telling the truth, and the police finding no evidence of otherwise they still decided to treat us as criminals. Why? Because we're Black? Because police are power drunk and just have to be right? Because it was imperative for the officers to learn how to write tickets that night? I dont know, but I used to dream into running into that officer and telling him how he had ruined my friend's life. But I also feared that he'd get pleasure out of the hardships instead of remorse, and since then i've loathed the police. This isn’t an irrational fear. This isn’t movie based or sensationalized. This really happened. If I’m hanging further than 5 minutes from home, and smell like weed I could be arrested. Thats what I learned, and fuck them for that. I understand why kids run, innocent or guilty you never know what could happen when you run into a police officer. And RIP to Mark's Grandmother. I'll be forever sorry that we're the reason you lost your home.

Submitted by @Chalee2Times

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  1. Great Post. I'll never forget the first time I was pulled over. Speeding, on my way to Lexington for a job interview the next day. Cop runs my license, then tells me, "I'm not going to give you a ticket, but I need you to step out of the car." As a Justice Administration minor in undergrad, I knew those two statements don't belong in the same sentence, and the last one is really bad. He proceeds to question me about where I'm going, and why I'm there. I tell him MULTIPLE times I'm going for a job interview the next day. He then says, "you don't look like you're going for a job interview," referencing my attire of a hoodie, sweatpants, and a fitted cap. Again, I tell him the interview is the next day. He proceeds to ask me if I have any guns, alcohol, or drugs on me, I say no. Then he asks if I have any of those items in my car, and if he can search to verify that I don't. I was well aware I had the right to say no to his search, but at that point when its about dusk with no traffic (witnesses) on the highway, and it's just me and the police officer, I'm not about to do anything that would be seen as confrontational. So he then tells me to put my hands up and not to move while he search my car. The search lasted maybe 2 minutes, but it felt like an hour, as he occasionally would stick his head out to remind me not to move. One of the most embarrassing moments of my life was made worse, as I thought of every possible outcome: Will he plant something? Will he take me to jail? Hell, he could kill me. Somewhat thankfully, he let me off with a warning and a suspicious side-eye, but as you said, people have been in this scenario and much worse has happened to them. I appreciate this article for all its truth, keep raising awareness, and never be silent!

    1. Thanks for the words of encouragement and for sharing your experiences Josh.