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.
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.
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.