I am a black American man, and I support the police. That may be a strange thing to read in this age of unprecedented rage against police over the shooting of black people, but I believe that failing to support good, decent police officers is a vote of support for crimimals and anarchy. However, although I root for the men and women in blue, I also know there are a few police officers who don’t deserve to wear the badge. Accordingly, this is an article about such police officers and how their misconduct impacted me. This is not about the legions of police officers who perform their tasks without bias. This is not about those officers who diligently keep us safe and who deserve our utmost respect. This is not about Black Lives Matter or any other modern-day police accountability movement. No, this is about a few bad cops whose misdeeds tarnished the badge and shook me to my core.
As a law-abiding black man in America, I have the same expectations in life as most other law-abiding Americans. Like Breonna Taylor and Eleonor Bumpurs, I expect to sit in my home and not be shot by the police. Like Philando Castile, I expect to drive a vehicle and not be shot by the police for legally carrying a registered firearm when stopped. Like Patrick Dorismond, Eric Garner, George Floyd, Sean Bell, and a myriad of others, I expect to progress along a street unarmed and without being shot or suffocated by the police amidst unproven allegations of being a violent criminal. Those are my expectations, and they are not at all Earth-shattering. I just don’t want to meet any of the tragic fates that were forced upon the unfortunate people listed above at the hands of officers who, in my opinion, were largely undeserving of the badges they wore.
My interactions with the police largely consist of overwhelmingly negative encounters where I felt more threatened by them than any criminal element nearby. Again, there are many, many, many good police officers across America, but it’s the very few bad ones—the ones who look upon black men and other historically oppressed minorities with a flaming, red-eyed hatred—who feed the animosity that exists between the black community and the police.
Police officers tried to arrest me—a grown man wearing a suit, tie, polished shoes, and carrying a briefcase—for jumping over a turnstile at a station in Manhattan. Such an action was physuically impossible to do since I paid my fare and entered the train earlier in the borough of Queens, and I was already on the train for 45 minutes (or so) as it traveled through Brooklyn and then into Manhattan. I was ordered off the train on a false count of evading the transit fare, and it was only through the intervention of several astounded white passengers who spoke on my behalf that I was saved from an unjust arrest and possible conviction. Police then grabbed a black teenager wearing jeans, sneakers, and a bomber jacket, but that was after telling me that “I fit the profile.” What profile? Of being black on a workday? The arrested youth and I were different in every way, with notably dissimilar height, weight, skin tone, clothing, and footwear. However, to the police officers I met, we were indistinguishable from one another, and we were both likely to be guilty of the crime.
The officers I met then were similar to one I met while working in New England, where a patrolman wanted to know why I was in a certain area at night. This happened shortly before the age of GPS (yes, I’m a Boomer), and I found myself driving through a neighborhood that was a wall-to-wall garbage dump filled with lowlife scum. I became lost while searching for my favorite fast food restaurant and I was looking for an entrance to a highway—any highway, secondary road, or cow path—that would get me the hell out of there, but I was pulled over by an officer and treated like a criminal despite my proof to the contrary.
The police officer demanded my ID and papers, which I provided, then he wanted to know if I was trying to sell drugs, to which I truthfully answered “no.” In reality, and as I told him, I was using a paper map and trying to get my bearings once I found that I was not in the area I expected to be in. The officer did not believe me despite seeing the open map in my car. I told him that I was a consultant for a nearby Government defense contractor and I showed him my credentials for the high-security installation. The officer did not believe me and openly doubted the authenticity of the security credentials. I asked him to call the Government contractor to confirm my identity. The officer said that it did not stop me from committing a crime. What crime? Driving through a lower-income neighborhood while being a minority? Wow, that never happens! 🙄 The officer reluctantly became convinced that I did not have drugs after he searched me and my vehicle. He was truly astonished to find that I was drug-free! I told him I just wanted to return to the area near the Government contractor because that is where my hotel room was booked. The officer did not believe that, so he escorted me, with his cruiser’s red-and-blue lights on, to a highway entrance for traffic heading to New York—not to my hotel—and he told me to never come back. I later turned around and somehow made my way to the hotel in defiance of his illegal order.
Many were the times when police chose to search me as I traveled within New York City’s subway system. I personally witnessed officers allow whites and Asians to enter the system unmolested while blacks, Latinos, and Arabs were routinely searched. And when I mean searched, I mean the “hands out, they search your pockets, they overturn your bag, and then they have a dog sniff your belongings” kind of highly intrusive search. There is nothing random about the application of such indignities. One day, two other black men and I went into a subway station in 1-2-3 order. With other passengers of other races going in around us and through the numerous turnstiles, the three persons the officers yanked over for searching were just us three black men, in 1-2-3 order.
There was one time a police officer in Manhattan nearly killed me and an innocent child. He was with other officers as they searched a black man in the hallway of a building when I emerged from a staircase while holding a baby. I used the staircase because other officers were holding the elevator doors open for some reason, thus preventing elevator service for everyone in the building. As I emerged, the officer whirled, pulled his weapon, pointed it at me and the baby, and he demanded I drop to the floor at gunpoint even as I held a baby in my arms.
Lastly came an incident that immediately showed a racial divide concerning the perception of the police. I walked toward a doctor’s office one Spring day just as two officers were exiting. Concerned, I asked them if there were any issues and if it was safe to proceed inside, but I was ignored. Instead, they spoke through the open door to ask a white person of no particular authority if I was “the guy” and I immediately and loudly objected as I did not commit any crime. Sadly, my protests fell on deaf ears. Fortunately for me, the white person stated that I was not “the guy” and I again questioned if it was even safe to be in the vicinity. In response, one officer yelled in my face, saying that he was not talking to me and that I was to shut up and sit down in the office.
The response to the above incident by those in the office immediately split along racial lines. The Caucasians who witnessed the exchange said I should forget it since, in their view, the police officer was mad at someone else and I just happened to be right there. However, the blacks and Latinos immediately said the officer was wrong, that I should stand up and demand respect. Given I never had a positive interaction with the police to that point in my life, I again felt threatened by actions taken against me by an officer and that my life was endangered yet again. I sat down, fearing the police officers, and afraid for my life.
The fear of police I felt is the unfortunate standard for many black Americans. It is a sad reality for most black men who are trying to make a difference in their communities or who are striving to enjoy a normal existence. Within the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” That blacks are sometimes denied all aspects of Jefferson’s statement at the hands of some who swore an oath to defend the public is an offense againt the very ideals that led to America’s independence. Our nation as a whole deserves better.
All the best,
No-Plagiarism Note: Portions of the above were taken from an earlier blog entry of mine titled, “Black Lightning” Keeps it Real.