In all the madness, anger, sadness, rage, and disenchantment that we all feel from the Trayvon Martin tragedy, I produced this piece as my contribution to the conversation. It’s only a minute long, but serves as my tribute to all of the young Black men who are so much more than what the world sometimes allows them to be:
While my story isn’t as harrowing as others’, I do believe it has negatively changed me as a person. My parents raised me to be a polite, upstanding young gentleman. I was taught to hold doors for people who are following behind me, open car doors for women, look people in the eye and say “Thank you.” I have, however, given up on committing one of these acts; I will not ask women, especially elderly women, if they need help carrying a heavy load.
Now, I’ve learned to keep distance when walking behind people in my neighborhood as I could see as that may be threatening to some people, but I feel that offering to help a woman carry groceries to or from her car is a pretty harmless thing. Unfortunately, I’ve had one too many people recoil in instinctual fear following an offer of assistance. As much as I’d like to think that I’m big and scary, I’m pretty unequivocally a non-scary person. I grew up in suburban Connecticut, I have no “urban” speech patterns, I keep my hair short and am clean-shaven for my office job. Despite this, I seem to be decently talented at scaring people. Scaring them enough that they clutch their purses and glance from side to side looking for help. After having someone viscerally react so strongly to what I can only imagine is the color of my skin, I’ve given up on it ever working out. Having someone pull back from you simply due to your skin color is a thoroughly damaging experience. No matter what I do or how I present myself I will always be Black and I’m damned proud to say that. Unfortunately not everyone feels the same.
So, after Trayvon’s premature death, I wonder what could have happened in one of these situations if I wasn’t so aware of the potential for myself to come off as frightening. What if I had been wearing a hoodie? I’ll often throw a hoodie on over a collared shirt. Or what if I pulled out my earbuds to say, “Excuse me, would you like a hand with that?” and my rap music had been a little too loud? What if the woman gave a shriek or actually yelled, “Help!” and some upstanding citizen came to her rescue? Because part of “Stand Your Ground” is to allow citizens to protect those who can’t protect themselves, like little old ladies who can’t even carry their own groceries, right? If enough of those “if’s” had occurred, then I, maybe, could have been Trayvon.
My “hoodie” picture needs no wardrobe change. no new setting— a faculty office will do just fine, just as it was several years ago at FIU, when a security guard drew his gun on me as i left my office one evening. Was it the fact that i spoke to him in Spanish that saved me? Simply, and even softly: “Calmate. Soy Profesor.” But this/my story is the story of many of us. ain’t new. i am not surprised by what ZImmerman did to Trayvon. What de system (yes, Mutabaruka has already told you) has done to him and his family and all justice yearning people, again. but rather, oddly, i am deeply shocked by the consistency. the banality. the everydayness of the denial of recognition of the humanity of black boys and girls men, womyn, some who are both & some who are neither. … ellipsis (and you may wonder how long it takes the writer to recover, to place hands shaking on keyboard. how breathlessly the author muffles his sobs in his office which literally overlooks ivy colored walls on a beautiful New England Spring day)
Parenthesis. odd word. hold multitudes. hides sins. So the truth is, i do my work where i find it. yes. & i try to support those doing their work where they find it & where i can. Yes. & i do what with this sadness? and —yes, i think it is, finally after so many years, yes finally rage. i do my work … .
My husband could be Trayvon. He grew up in one of only five black families in a predominantly white town and was bullied, chastised and harassed throughout his school years. He was taught early on that he had to behave in a different manner from the white kids because he was subject to more scrutiny. Thankfully he learned those lessons well or a recent incident may have ended very differently.
We were shopping in a Costco store in a predominantly white, blue collar area. My husband was waiting in the extremely long line as I gathered a few last items and overheard a woman telling someone else that the lines weren’t really that long, there was just a bottleneck and that if you could pass it, you could be out of the store quickly.
I entered the line and mentioned the woman’s words to my husband, so he told me to stay with the cart while he checked it out. I watched him weave through the other carts and walk to the left, out of my sight for a moment. He then appeared again motioning with his arm for me to come to him. Just as I began to move, the man in front of me, a short, white man in probably his late 40s or early 50s darted out into the aisle with his cart and zoomed up to where my husband was standing, ending up in a much shorter line, directly behind my husband.
I approached with our cart and as I neared the man asked, “Excuse me, can you move just a little to the left so I can get my cart by you?” The man ignored me. I asked again, but still received no response. My husband then turned around and asked the man, “Excuse me, would you please let my wife through with our cart?”
My husband is 6’4” and at least 265 pounds. He is a proud U.S. Army veteran and has been trained in combat, sharp shooting, etc. He is also a black man and knows that his size coupled with the color of his skin can be “intimidating” to people and because of that, he is known as a gentle giant by all who know him. He makes sure to speak softly to unfamiliar people and tends to move slowly. He has an incredibly calm and patient demeanor, whereas I tend to be quicker to react.
After my husband’s request to let me pass, the other man finally reacted. He said quietly, “If you want the place in line, you’ll have to fight me for it.” My husband had no visual reaction, but I was in total shock, mouth agape, face screwed up, trying to figure out if we were on some crazy hidden camera show. My husband simply stood there, he didn’t move a muscle and said, “Sir, I am in front of you. You can’t check out until I have completed my business and my business includes my wife and the cart, so please step aside.”
Then it happened. The quiet, short, white man yelled at the top of his lungs, “THE BIG BLACK GUY WANTS TO FIGHT ME!!! HE WANTS TO BEAT FOR MY PLACE IN LINE!!!!” My husband still did not react; he simply looked at me as the words, “OH HELLLLL NO!!” must have hovered above my head in a thought blurb. The man continued to shout as people looked on, “THE BIG BLACK MAN WANTS TO BEAT THE LITTLE GUY!! BEAT ME BECAUSE I AM LITTLE! BECAUSE I AM NOTHING!!”
People around us were all looking at us, but no one moved. Did they believe him? Were they afraid of my big, hulking husband and his brown skin? Now I was picturing the police being called and the more-than-likely white officers either tackling, tasing or shooting my husband for doing nothing more than standing in line, simply because some other man said something untrue. My heart was racing! Do we just ditch the cart and leave the store? How do we end this without it escalating any further and my beautiful, God-fearing, volunteer fire brigade member, union steward, former gang-prevention coordinator at the Boys & Girls Club, black man having a run-in with the police?
There was another black man in the store. He was in the line next to us and had observed the entire incident. He left his cart and put his hand inside his jacket. He approached us and showed us his badge. The brother was an off-duty police detective from a nearby town. He held his badge up so that others could see his was an officer and then approached the white man who was no longer screaming, but was still saying things like, “I am a doctor! I help poor people all of the time! I don’t deserve this!” When he saw the badge, he quieted down for a second and then said, “Officer! He wants to fight me! Look how big he is!”
The officer told him to simply stop. He said he had observed the entire exchange and that my husband had neither said nor done anything to threaten or harass him in any way. Now the other people in the line chimed in, saying, “Yeah! He didn’t do anything!” The officer told the man to step aside and my husband and I paid for our groceries in peace. The little man stayed behind us, quietly. The officer also commended my husband for remaining so calm and not reacting in any way at all. “You know,” he said, “if you had even raised your voice, the local police would’ve been in here and you would be face down being handcuffed.” My husband shook his hand and replied, “Yeah, man. I know. It’s not the first time I’ve seen something like this. That’s why I didn’t react.”
We placed our groceries in the car and as my husband arranged them, I went to place the cart in the cart return. On my way back, I saw the man who had caused the scene. He was parked only 2 cars from us and as I passed by, he looked at me with anger and disdain. I turned my heard to avert his gaze and heard, “NIGGER LOVER!!” I wanted to turned around and let him know that despite my freckled, fair skin, reddish hair and green eyes I’m black too. So rather than “Nigger lover,” he should just call me “Nigger.” But I didn’t want to fan the flames so I returned to our car and didn’t tell my husband what was said.
Trayvon is neither the first nor the last black man to be judged or harassed because of his appearance. My husband wears a hoodie throughout the winter months and he often works odd hours, coming home well after midnight. We live in a nice area, but I always ask him to call me from the car and talk to me on his way home, just in case he gets pulled over or if someone questions his reasons for driving a nice car, being out or even in our neighborhood after midnight. It’s funny how often I take it for granted that my neighbor probably doesn’t worry about her white husband driving around or going to 7-11 in the wee hours. I guess I’ve kind of become accustomed to it and just imagined that we all live that way. But Trayvon Martin’s death reminds me that it isn’t so. No one questioned George Zimmerman’s right to be out, driving around with a gun. His father said he was going to the store, but did he really need a gun to go to the store? While Zimmerman slept warm in his bed on February 26th, Trayvon’s body lay cold in the morgue. Every night I thank God that my beautiful black man makes it home safely.
"Some black girl stole that nice car and is staking out the barbecue shop." But the real kicker is....
I was visiting home last year from New York City. I was in my hometown, a small town in the Midwest. I took my grandparent’s car out for a ride in the next town over. My grandmother was in the passenger seat. Along the road, in a neighborhood that is both residential and commercial, I got out of my car to take a picture of a funny sign for a gun store/barber shop. I walked up and down the sidewalk taking pictures of the sign, then of the lovely Midwest skyline, and finally one of a bird on a pole. I got back in the car and drove home. About ten minutes after I got home, the phone started ringing. My grandfather answered it. The police were on the line. They said that they got a report that my grandparent’s car had been stolen and “some black girl” was driving it around town. They said that “the black girl” was acting suspiciously and was taking pictures and possibly staking out the town’s small barbeque restaurant (I realize, the one next to the gun store/barber shop). My grandpa spoke with them for a while. He was very confused and flustered. He explained that I was his granddaughter and kept telling them I live in New York City now, and was taking pictures because I was there visiting. When he’d finally convinced the police that everything was fine, and hung up, the phone rang again. This time, it was a woman on the other end, the woman who lived next to the barbeque shop. She had seen me through her living room window, written down the license plate number of the car I was driving, and had called the police and said that ‘a black girl” was driving it around, and was taking pictures, her theory, of the barbeque shop. (My grandparents own a newish, nice Cadillac.) She asked the police who owned the car with that license number. The police actually ran the number and told her and gave her my grandparent’s names and phone number. My grandfather spoke with her at length, too, saying the same thing that he’d said to the police. But the funny thing is, although he kept telling everyone that I’m his granddaughter, and that now I live in New York, he was so confused and flustered, he never mentioned the really telling bit of information in all this; I’M NOT BLACK. I am a white woman. I am a pale white woman. I have red hair and green eyes and all of that, and I mean, I’m paler than most white people. And it was a summer day, bright outside, clear skies, and I was wearing a tank top and shorts. I am white, but I do wear my hair in a kind of funky Mohawk, sometimes permed. And it was permed that day, curls piled high. And I do dress strangely. (And coincidently, I have a name that people often say is “a black name.” Whatever. Because of this, I have been called the N- word several times all throughout my life and experienced strange racist reactions.) But this instance, where a person was actually looking at me out of her window and although I’m very white, thought I was black, was the most absurd and extreme of all of them. She saw me and saw that I was weird and felt uncomfortable, and saw my hair was curly and strange, and that feeling of discomfort she associated with seeing a black person, and then she thought I was black. And then from there, because she thought I was black, she thought I must have stolen the nice car I was driving, and that I was getting ready to stick up a barbeque restaurant. I couldn’t make this up. It’s too cliché and ridiculous. I don’t know how to analyze this story. Other than to say, it’s absurd and gross. I also know it’s nothing, nothing, nothing compared to what people who are actually black have to go through on a daily basis. But I hope it does illustrate the insane, inane level of absurd, paranoid racism that is pervading this society, still.
too old, female and white to be trayvon, but stand in solidarity
My post is about an incident that happened in 1969 in Bensonhirst, Brooklyn, N.Y. Sadly not much has changed since then. I was participating in a rally at FDR High School along with classmates to ask that ethnic studies be taught in public schools. A mob of white racist neighborhood bullies came to the school to harrass the mostly black students who were demostrating with vicious dogs, chains and threats. The teachers who were present to provide support to the peaceful rally decided to call the police to escort our group to the train station which was 5 long and isolated blocks away so they could return to their homes in safety. The teachers stayed with us until we turned the corner a block before the “el”. As soon as the teachers were out of sight, the police turned on my classmates and began clubbing THEM with absolutely no provocation as they ran for the train station. At least a few of them sustained injuries. I am not aware that there was ever any justice afforded to these students. Several years later a black MTA employee was shot to death as he left work in the same neighborhood.
It was a pretty normal day. I Left my off-campus house and took a walk to the comic book store, just a typical fall day in Pennsylvania nothing special. On my way home I noticed what appeared to be someone following me, figured it was just my imagination.
After I dropped the comics at my house I walked to the grocery store, I noticed a cop car I had seen a couple of times on my way to the comic book store and thought to myself: "is that cop car following me?", shrugged it off "nah, you’re being paranoid". I went to the grocery store and picked up some cheap college fare, probably Ramen noodles, frozen juice, Mac and Cheese and the like.
On my way back the same police car pulled up ahead of me and a cop jumped out. He stood in front of me and put his hand out like he was a traffic cop who wanted me to stop.
"Excuse me, I need to see some ID, we’re looking for someone and you bear a very strong resemblance".
I had heard about this kind of thing in the past so I wasn’t especially worried at this point, I figured I’d show him my ID and he’d leave me alone. But then I started to notice a few things:
A guy who appeared to be in casual clothes except for the cargo tactical pants and the combat boots, who was slowly creeping up behind me.
Two cop cars just stopped on the other side of the street, they didn’t park, they just stopped as if they were waiting for something.
The corner was about 20 meters ahead of us, and another squad car pulled up and parked on the cross street, two cops got out of the car and just stood on the sidewalk facing us.
At that point this turned from a basic “let me see some ID and then I’ll leave you alone” situation into: “what in the world have I stepped in?!”
Still, the demeanor of the cop ahead of me (let’s call him Officer Friendly) was really calm and friendly, so I just took a deep breath, put my groceries down carefully, slowly took out my wallet and handed over my IDs to Officer Friendly.
Officer Friendly looked at my IDs (and almost frantically) called into his radio: “College ID, College ID, BACK-UP BACK-UP BACK-UP!”
At this point the true tenor of the situation began to sink in, Officer Friendly was just meant to disarm me, distract me while the other cops took me down. It was actually a surprise that my ID displayed that I was a student at the local snotty college, not the person they were looking for.
The Mr. Friendly Cop handed me back my ID and apologized for the confusion, said I had the bad luck of looking “exactly” like the suspect.
"I’m really sorry about all of this, we’re looking for a guy who murdered a 13 year old girl and you look just like him. You two could be twins"
"Can you tell the guy behind me to stop sneaking up on me, I can see him in your car window"
Mr. Friendly looked past me at the cop sneaking up on me, “stand down, he’s not our guy”.
Sneaky cop stopped and just sort of stood there, staring daggers at me.
"But seriously man, you look just like our suspect, let me know show you his picture"
Before I go further let me note that at the time I was a 5’9” 190 pound track athlete, with short hair and medium to dark skin.
6’2”, 140 pounds, very light skinned and with dreadlocks.
I looked the picture over, “I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, but I look nothing like this guy”
"I don’t know man, I still think he could be your twin"
I shook my head, picked up my groceries and walked away.
I remember being pissed off, but relieved as I knew it could’ve ended far worse.
Let’s say I wasn’t going to the rich private school, let’s say I was taller and lighter complexioned, how does this end?
It ends with multiple cops tackling me to the ground, and dragging me away to sort it all out later.
I first started studying martial arts when I was around four, not claiming to be a master but what if they just tackled me and I just reacted? How does that end….
…never mind, let’s not go there.
I got really lucky; one small change and my life is ruined if not destroyed, and for no other reason than the police were looking for a black man and I happened to walk through their line of sight. It was one of those incidents whose significance didn’t really sink until I told my friends about it later, and when people in my neighborhood asked me about it.
Five years later my nephew was born and I was starting to get hopeful, starting to think he was being born into a better world. Started to think that maybe, just maybe by the time he was 20 he could attend a private college in a predominantly white area and not have to worry.
I love my little nephew, he’s a sweet, nerdy 11 year old, who just wants to read “Lord of the Rings”, get good grades, and spend time with his family. He also likes to wear hoodies, just like most people in the rainy Pacific Northwest. I think of this case and think of him walking to my house from the convenience store in my neighborhood and some lunatic targeting him. I think of pundits wanting to blame his clothes as if said lunatic wouldn’t have targeted him if he had been wearing a suit and not a hoodie, as if the “hoodie” is even the issue.
It breaks my heart to think of someone hurting him because he visited me and someone pursued him because they thought he was too black to be in a nice neighborhood. It breaks my heart to think of the other black families in that neighborhood who are undoubtedly living in fear right now. But most of all it breaks my heart that in the year 2012 we’re still dealing with this nonsense, and people are steadily trying to make excuses for the behavior of lunatics.
This case needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, as should all other similar cases. A message needs to be sent that Black lives are worth as much as White ones, and that you cannot kill Black men with no other justification than your own racism and ignorance.
In the end that’s the real issue here, if Trayvon was a blond girl George Zimmerman would be jail right now and no one would be trying to paint her as dangerous or the victim of bad clothing choices. Instead since Trayvon is Black it’s far too easy for our society to look at this as just another Black hoodlum who died by the sword, or look for an excuses to portray this situation that way.
Black, lives, matter, ALL LIVES MATTER, our society can’t move forward from it’s horrific racial past until this becomes gospel.
it’s always been interesting being a “model” minority. knowing that i am “better off” in racial discrimination terms than many other people of color. funny though how september 11 changed that irrevocably. (see this story about a brown woman beaten to death in her own home because of an anti-muslim hate crime not too far from where my parents live in san diego, california http://www.kusi.com/video?clipId=6873064&autostart=true).
i’ve thought a lot about trayvon’s story and my own brother’s run ins with the police in his short 18 years of life. i sometimes feel strangely lucky to be a brown woman and not a brown man, despite all the bullshit being a woman of color brings. it’s odd the things a racist system causes us to be thankful for.
When I was a senior in High School, I ended up having a day off on a Thursday in May 2009. That day I decided to go for a walk in my neighborhood or close.
The neighborhood I lived in at that time was a predominantly white neighborhood in South Minneapolis. It was very close to the Minnehaha Creek and Lake Harriet. I ended up walking onto a neighborhood that was more upper middle class than where even I was, but very close to my house at the same time called Kings Highway and Dupont. While I was walking a black minivan pulled up to me, and the driver’s window was pulled down.
"Do you need a ride?" a woman with short brown hair in Big sunglasses asked.
"No, thank you," I said. "I’m just on a walk."
"You sure?" She asked.
"I’m sure," I replied. "It’s a nice day today."
"You are sure you don’t need a ride?" She asked again.
"I’m sure," I said.
Finally, she drove off, and in spite of feeling like I was being stalked at that moment, I continued on my walk.
I eventually ended up walking back and when I did, the same minivan was there to greet me, as well as the woman.
"You sure you know where you are going?" She asked me almost witha worried look on her face.
I said Yes raising my eyebrow as she was about to take a picture of me with he camera phone. Then she drove off
At that moment, I was feeling uncomfortable (thinkning she might have been a predator) and started walking faster. I was about to call my mom (because I was not so sure whether this was a police incident) about it when the cops drove up to me as I was walking back.
"Can I see your ID?" The first police officer asked me.
"Is there something wrong officer," I asked as I was pulling out my purse.
"A woman called us to check on you," the second police officer said. "She said you looked suspicious."
I was taken aback at all of it. Apparently, this was the reason she was spying on me.
I showed the cops my school ID
"You go to Main Street!" the first officer said.
"Yep!" I said. "Senior Year; music major."
"Congratulations." The first Officer said.
I got my ID back, and they drove off.
I remember being very unusually angry after that. I was not angry at the cops, since I was fortunate to not suffer police brutality like many in situations of racial profiling. However, this encounter never needed to happen. I was on a walk on a nice day; I was neither practicing vandalism on a house nor even talking to any kids. Yet somehow, according to that woman, that 9/11 phone call was needed because I “looked” suspicious.
I was fortunately not in harms way at all, but when Zimmerman said that same thing about Trayvon “looking suspicious” during that 9/11 call before he shot and killed him, it hearkened back to that time.
Black men have been shot up my whole life - from the famous - such as Malcolm X - to Trayvon. All of those killings take a little bit of me with them (so a lot of me is gone), but this one seems to have invaded my entire soul. I am feeling a knot in my chest all day. I wake up in the middle of the night in emotional agony. I can’t eat. I had to leave a meeting at work because I couldn’t hold it together. I feel nauseous. Detached from the everyday flow of life. With each story on TV I feel less and less alive. Is this some kind of mourning psychosis? A paralyzing torment that won’t let go? What to do?! I have to do SOMETHING.
I remember as a 17 year old youth,growing up in Greensboro,North Carolina,there was a mall that was a common meeting place that my friends and I would frequent weekends. After getting off from work (yes I was employed) the 4 of us would go to the Carolina Circle Mall to play the arcade,eat some pizza,then try to talk to the pretty girls who were there.but there was this over-zealous mall security guard who would ALWAYS follow us around the mall,even to the point of following us out as we left. We couldn’t understand why he would follow us around and never would follow the large crowds of white teenagers.Then one day,he asked us to leave the mall saying that we were in there too long and hadn’t purchased anything!!(We were at the arcade playing Ms Pac-Man)…We exchanged words and then he summoned his fellow security guards for help…Now in Greensboro N.C. tensions were still high from the acquittal of several KKK members who killed several CWP members back in 1979,after a “Death to the Klan” rally. After we left he followed us and we then decided to go to the Four Seasons Mall from then on. I often look back and wonder what would have happened if the confrontation was outside,and he (fearing 4 young black teenagers),could have reached for his gun and shot one of us, Yes I and my friends could have been Trayvon!!!
In the late 90’s I was one of two Black men on a 747 flying from Munich to Boston. I was casually dressed, with dreadlocks flying. The other Brother was attired in an expensive three-piece suit and carried a pricey briefcase. I imagined him to be a high-end lawyer or diplomat.
As I proceeded through US Customs, I was pulled aside and taken to a corner by two Caucasian customs officials. I noticed that the other Black man was taken aside as well. (We didn’t know each other; he had flown in the first class cabin, unlike myself.) In the meantime, hundreds of Caucasian travelers were ambling through to the baggage claim area sans concerns.
One man asked me what I was doing flying from Munich to Boston. I indicated that I was on vacation and had visited a friend. He laughed, “You have a friend in Munich??!” I didn’t respond. He then asked, “What do you do for work, man?” I explained that I was an Administrative Director of a mathematics project at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. He guffawed, “You don’t fucking work at Dartmouth! Where’s your ID?”
I produced the Dartmouth ID.
He looked at it for a long time - perhaps thinking it was bogus or something - then put it up against my face and barked, “Welcome home, boy!”
Later that day, I sat down and wrote a lengthy letter to the Head of US Customs at Logan Airport and copied the letter to the Governor and various other officials about the incident. (The letter was on Dartmouth stationery. )
It is now 2012, and I have yet to hear from anyone about the incident.
[I always document and write letters because these things have a way of finding their way to personnel files and such - if they aren’t destroyed. Because of this sliver of a chance, I figure it’s worth the trouble to write authorities about these things. Of course with modern electronics such as IPODs, it is possible to record one’s encounters with authorities discreetly. Such evidence is less easily ignored because it is so vivid and dynamic. So I plan to write about and record events forthwith to make my cases even more robust and more likely to be investigated.
I was an officer in US Navy stationed in Long Beach Ca. One night while out cruising in Hollywood (this was in 1988) the traffic light turned yellow I was going to fast to stop and was close enough to pass thru on yellow . I was stopped by police said I ran a yellow light. I was ordered out the car and have me sobriety test , check my pupils had me recite the alphabet lean backwards I passed with flying colors yet they wouldn’t let me go. At same a lady time came by yelling there was a serious fight around the corner the cope ignored her and kept check king me over. Minutes later a Sr cop looked into my eyes said I was clean and they let me go. ##### One other time I had picked up my 6, yr old daughter from school close to home cop stooped me for speeding . My daughter asked are you going to give my daddy a ticket. The cop said hi there cutie, smiled and let me go.
I am so glad to see these stories. When I have asked about these sort of incidents my Black friends always seem to deny that this happens.
One night my ancient father’s nurse needed a ride home. I drove her in my father’s fancy Lexus. We crossed into the Black half of Washington DC and a police car drove up behind us and turned on that terrifying blinding light into the car. When he saw that the car was being driven by a grey haired white lady he turned off the light and sped off. I understood what had just happened. The nurse feigned ignorance. I could not be Trayvon Martin.
My Epiphany in Oakland [I could have been Trayvon]
My name is Roger Porter, I’m from Oakland, CA and I definitely could have been Trayvon. Here is a story about something that happened when I was 17.
I’m 17 years old and it’s a Saturday night.
I’m driving my mother’s 1994 blue Honda Accord with two of my friends in the back seat. We’re about to get on the freeway to check out this party when we see two of our other friends riding in the opposite direction. So we both pull over and because I haven’t seen the other two guys since they dropped out of school, we have a little reunion on the side of the street.
We laugh, clown a little and try to figure out where we want to go. Everything is all good; the weather is warm, the women are out and it’s just a care-free atmosphere. Then we all stop talking as we notice a police car pull up behind us.
“Hey is everything alright?” One of the cops asks us, not out of concern, but to put us on the defensive.
We tell him “yeah” like, of course everything is OK why wouldn’t it be?
“Whose car is this?”
“That’s my mother’s car,” I respond quick and agitated.
“Hey don’t get an attitude with me bro. I’ll have everybody here lying face down with their hands behind their backs.”
Then another squad car pulls up and as I stare at the officer who is doing all the talking and is now a few steps away from me and I experience an epiphany. It felt like that moment represented a perfect culmination of my teenage experience — it was as if my ethnic identity had now become perfectly clear.
When I was 13, I remember walking home from school one day and having a black woman around my mother’s age, with huge burning eyes, ask me if I had any rocks to sell her. By the time we were 15, everybody asked us for dope; Mexicans, White people and black folks as well. They would ask me, my cousin and our friends for drugs while we walked home from football practice with our pads on like that was our one purpose on Earth.
And when we went to the corner store on E. 15th, down the street from my cousin’s house, to get some Now & Laters or some Funions or Donald Duck orange juice, the old Korean lady would shout “Philly Blunt?” as she held two cigars up, one in each hand, behind the cash register. And we would have to tell her, just like we told all the dope fiends, “NO!”
So now there are like five cops gathered around us and I suddenly understand that I, along with my friends, are now fully-grown monsters. I mean if criminality had a color then it was the same complexion as us. If criminality had features then it would look exactly like our reflections in the mirror. If criminality had a dress code then it would wear its pants, shirt and shoes exactly like we did.
“I got a report about a fight … is there any fighting going on here?”
“Naw, no fighting.”
“Can I see your drivers license?”
I show it to him and he looks at it with a flashlight because apparently he needs to analyze every letter and every number. When he’s done, he tells us to have a good night and both of the squad cars speed off to their next confrontation.
My friends and I stay there for a few minutes and try as hard as we can to regroup. But needless to say, we find it to be impossible.
The murder of Trayvon Martin makes me think back to when I was barely a teenager, growing up in Central Brooklyn, and the name of NYPD Officer Volpe was common to us long before he and a handful of other cops sodomized Abner Louima at a local precinct. He would round us up – children – and harass us routinely. I rarely questioned it then – just something cops do, I thought. And yet if sworn officers, supposedly trained in police-community relations, could terrorize children and gang-rape a defenseless young man, what then can be said for an armed militia of untrained, racially-paranoid bullies? No, I have not taken a photo wearing a hood over my face. But I continue to search my own conscience and that of my country. I urge you to do the same.
In the 1990’s, on occasion I used to drive to Providence, Rhode Island, from Boston to party (this may seem counterintuitive, perhaps, but it’s true!). Each and every time, when returning to Boston on I-95 in the middle of the night, I was stopped by the po-po. And each and every time, they searched my vehicle, padded me down, looked into my eyes, and then let me go. (They never found illegal substances, weapons, etc., although they sure tried - and wished it - to the point of going through the trouble of removing the spare tire in the trunk to see if I had hidden anything beneath it!
One of those times I had finally had too much. I meticulously noted the officer’s badge number, cruiser number and license plate. On the following Monday, I wrote a comprehensive letter on office stationery (I was @MIT then) to the Rhode Island State Police and copied to various offices and officials in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
About a week later, I got a call @work from a very apologetic investigator who asked if he could come to the office to meet with me and review the details of my “unfortunate” experiences so that we can “discipline the officer involved.” I unhesitatingly agreed and planned to meet him a few days later.
On the appointed day, a colleague buzzed me to let me know that the investigator had arrived. Upon stepping into the lobby to greet him, he looked at me - and his smile suddenly vanished. What had been a warm and concerned gentleman was now a cold, distant and mean jerk.
We went to my office; as soon as I closed the door he said to me, “Sir, we believe that you were mistaken about the officer badge number, cruiser and plates because we searched our records high and low, and there are no officers or cruisers with those numbers. The officers working on the specified night have no recollection of having stopped anyone during their shift, so we’re just going to have to close the book on this case, okay?”
He then extended his hand - as if to complete the “deal.” I eschewed it, opened the door and gestured for him to leave.
I never heard from the police or any authorities about the case again.
While we encourage all people to read and learn from the perspectives on this blog, we are initially reserving submissions exclusively for the voices of boys and men of color who have experienced racial profiling and have felt moved by the injustice of Trayvon Martin’s senseless death.
Click on the “Submit” button to
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