Eff Tha Police

fuck-the-police

I could generalize and say something like Black people in America view the police in a whole other way than white people do. Or I could say most Black people, or some Black people. Or I could talk about why I view the police in a particular way and you can compare it to how you view them.

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One time in my early twenties I asked my BFF how many times she’d been pulled over by the police. We were close in age, similar backgrounds etc all that. Prolly why we clicked and became such pals. The only difference is that she was a redheaded white girl with pale skin and freckles. She said she’d never been pulled over before in her life. Ever.

At that time, I’d already been pulled over close to 10 times. Since then, twenty or so years later, that figure has doubled and then some. Tripled? I dunno. I’ve lost count.

The only respite I’ve had from DWB (Driving While Black) has been since I moved here to Southern AZ. I’ve been pulled over just once, about six years ago, and was let go with a warning. No ticket. I was flabbergasted. That has never happened to me in my entire life.

But there is a reason for that. Because out here, I’m invisible. The majority of the people who get profiled and pulled over are brown like me, yes, no doubt about that, but they are Latino/Hispanic. I am so invisible out here in this border state, that for the last three general elections (I didn’t go back any further) there are no voting statistics and/or voting demographic information for African-Americans.

We are %4.1 of the 6,694,017 population in this state. I’m too tired to do the math, but while that’s not a huge amount, I’m pretty sure it isn’t a negligible number either. That, and I see Black people every day, everywhere as I go about my life.

I am truly sorry for my brown skinned sisters and brothers out here – and I know Native Americans get caught up in that net too – but I won’t lie and say I haven’t been enjoying my respite, and my little taste of the privilege that goes with being a member of the demographic that is not profiled.

*

Have you ever been pulled over by the police? Have you ever been pulled over by the police and had guns and rifles pointed at you? You know, like how they do at a stand off in the movies. Yep. That one was extra special. Happened half a block from my home, I was driving home from a night club. Stone cold sober, mind you, I was at underage night – I was a normal teen living at home with my parents and siblings.

After they sorted out I wasn’t the deranged gang gunslinger guy – who had just shot up the park I had driven through and prolly subsequently got away while they were interrogating me at gunpoint – I made them come with me to the door and wake up my parents, because they made me late for my curfew, and I wasn’t about to get grounded because of the po-po. I wore my hair in a short afro high top fade – it was the 80’s after all – and my silhouette behind the wheel read: Black Male Driving a Car. Prime pulling over material.

And it doesn’t matter the vehicle I’m driving either. I’ve been pulled over driving a scooter, a hoopty, a beamer, a sports car, a cute hatchback, a family sedan, a beater, a pickup truck, a station wagon and yes even that cop car Chrysler model.

I may have been pulled over more than than I could have been due to my hairstyle of choice over the years. But as I look back, I notice even when I wore my hair long and straight or long and in braids, I still got pulled over. Must be the skin tone.

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I’ve been pulled over three times, maybe four when I had my biracial (Latino/Black) son in the car. He looks a lot like me, but has a lot lighter skin tone, and different hair texture than I do.

You might have been recently alerted to what can happen to people when you and your kid “don’t match up”, but I been knowing about what can happen with that my whole life. The comments at the fricken hospital where I gave birth were… well I have no words for what they were.

Have you ever been pulled over with your kid or kids in the car and were in terror that you might lose them or be arrested for kidnapping? Not once, not twice but four times?

And, btw, I ended up selling that damn scooter, because I kept getting pulled over on that effing thing so damn much. Apparently Black people steal those a lot in the Bay Area. Who knew? Even ones dressed to the nines on their way to see an international dance company perform at the local state university theater. Yes, the police made me late to what was supposed to be a wonderful afternoon of Dance and Delight.

And the funny thing was, I wasn’t even driving my scooter at that time. I was walking it inside the scooter parking area right along side the theater, looking for a good spot. I got interrogated as to if that was my scooter, I told them I was going to the dance performance, showed them my ticket and also I was pretty dressed up. But no, they had to keep asking me about my scooter and waste time running the VIN to make sure it was actually mine. Which of course it was, but never mind that. Sorry to have bothered you ma’am, carry on.

Fuck Tha Police.

N.W.A.’s song released in 1988. And wow I sure could relate. Also, ain’t a damn thing changed in the 25 intervening years and on into the present day.

*

The only difference is that the danger has been heightened. I never feared for my life on those pull overs. Mostly because I felt a tiny bit of security in that once they saw I wasn’t a Black male, I might would be ok. That is usually what happened.

I’d get a ticket for some bullshit thing, I’d have to show up at traffic court – and nine times out of ten the cop in question wouldn’t even bother to show up – so my ish was always thrown out. Time and expense wasted tho. Most jobs won’t pay you while you have to spend the day sitting in a court room.

One time I got so sick of it, when it was my time up in front of the judge, after he tossed my case as per usual, I made a little speech. I asked everyone to look around the court room. (This was in Beverly Hills btw, where I worked at the time, and had been pulled over on my way home.) I told everyone to notice how many People of Color there were, and how many white people there were (only about two in a room of nearly 50 people waiting for their turn up front). I made a plea to the court to ask the police officers to stop profiling. I got a standing ovation.

But I would take the hit because the only other options are to pay off the ticket – more expensive than the missing work hours – or go to traffic school. Which I wasn’t about to ever do, because I know how to effing drive, and I drive most excellently. I was never pulled over because of bad driving, no matter what my ticket might say. Another generality: Black people are great drivers.

Because nowadays a pull over might mean I get to die. This shoot now, and ask questions later thing has only escalated over the years. Because Stop and Frisk isn’t about fighting crime it is about harassing Black and Brown bodies. Stopping my car isn’t about the stop sign I supposedly ran, or whatever moving violation that gets made up. Its all about me being suspicious because I fit a profile (that skin tone thing, remember?) and I should be pulled over because I’m probably a criminal or stole that car I’m driving.

*

I was a member of the student-police liaison corps for a year or so when I was in college. I mostly applied for that job because it was the highest paying gig on campus. I also found out that (at least at this university) campus police and the local sheriffs were specially trained to deal with the student population.

One night I was returning a boom box to a friend after dance rehearsal, and I had never been to her house. I was driving slowly down the block, trying to read the apartment numbers and the directions scrawled on a piece of paper in my hand.

Cop car pulls up and the officer asks if I need any help. I nervously tell him what I’m doing, and he proceeds to turn on his car search light thingy to light up the apartments and helps me find the right one. Could have knocked me over with a feather.

And that was before I had that job, so to him I was just some random Black chick driving all funny. Could be a student or not – he never asked for my ID or license. He was obviously trained to assume that most people in my age bracket in that area are going to be students. Interesting. Cops can be trained to not racially profile. Who knew?

I got to know the officers who worked on the campus while I had that job, as well as most of the sheriffs from the town proper, as they worked in tandem with the campus officers. That was the only time in my life I’ve ever had a good experience with the police.

I know there are good officers out there. A few friends I made in that student liaison job went on to be police officers. I’ve interacted with them, gone on ride-a-longs, got to know their fellow cops socially, and even dated a detective once. I know there are good cops out there.

*

But still. I’m sorry to say the bad outweighs the good in my life and in the lives of Black people in this country, when it comes to the police. So I’ll let Dre, Cube, Eazy n Nems tell you how it feels most of the time

______________________________________________

I wrote this post because I’m still trying to process what happened to Tremaine McMillian. And countless others who’s story of targeted harassment and violence from the police didn’t make it into the funny papers. Like MY story.
Have you been pulled over by the police over 30 times in your life span? 20? Once? Never? What happened when you were pulled over? Why do you think it is that you have never been pulled over? Have you been stopped and frisked? How many times? Never? Why?
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9 Responses to Eff Tha Police

  1. Ty McDuffie says:

    Very good read….I INSTANTLY thought of an answer that I gave to a question on Quora. The question was “What is it like to be Black in America?”
    My answer:
    I’ll explain it like this….and I’ll keep it short and sweet. When most parents’ kids get their license to drive…It’s all congratulations…When my daughter got her license my speech was like this: “If you get pulled over, and can make it without driving too far, try to make it to a place with people in it. Try to call me on your cell and put it in the seat next to you. Speak out loud about where you are. Make sure you keep your hands in the open at all times. Always say “sir” or “ma’am.” Smile. Don’t display anger. Do what they say. if you have to get out of the car, make no sudden movements. Make sure they know you’re not resisting. Give no attitude……..oh…and have fun.” That’s almost the same speech that I got when I got my license, and the same speech most of my contemporaries got……both minus the cell phone bit, of course.

    • Awake BW says:

      And isn’t that just kind of sad when you think about it? The driving version of The 10 Frisk Commandments. http://thisweekinblackness.com/2013/05/09/icymi-the-10friskcommandments/

      I used to have mild panic attacks whenever I saw a squad car whenever I was out driving. I say used to, because as mentioned in my post, I’m invisible out here. But I may have to move somewhere elsewhere in the near future, and I’ll be back on their radar all over again. I do a lot of education with white parents who have adopted children of color. Because many of them are not aware that along with all the usual things parents teach their kids, they are going to have to give them their version of your speech.

      Thank you for your thoughts, and for stopping by, Ty!

  2. Thank you for this post! It was very powerful, and if I can give it the proper respect that it deserves I think I will re-blog this later.

  3. Pingback: White Fear | Dreaming of a Colorful Future

  4. DesiBjorn says:

    I really liked that you pointed out that Latinos and Hispanics experience this time of harassment almost equally just depending on the location. I can admit that I have had so many exaggerated and unwarranted run ins with the police that resulted in my being handcuffed, detained, or searched that it is an ongoing “joke” with my close friends that every time we hear a siren or see a police car they look at me and say “hide.” While I’m making light of it to take the edge off the bitterness and anxiety, it is a fact that I feel less safe even endangered at the sight of an officer. And it’s not that I think they’re all bad, it’s because what is at stake for me is my criminal record, money, and freedom. All of which I’m not risking on hoping that (for once) I might be encountering the “good cop.” It’s egregious and disgusting to feel so unprotected and targeted in a country that swears by freedom and justice for all.

    Good talk. Keep spreading the truth. Respect.

    • Awake BW says:

      Hey thanks for your thoughts, Desi! I swear people just don’t understand the panic attacks when you see the police whether you are driving or walking. The fear for my brown-skinned son as he’s moving through the world as adult. I imagine our lives would have been much different if we’d been privileged enough to have not had to endure these never-ending experiences. Kinda sad to think about actually.

      They are finally making more of a mainstream impact, these studies which have documented the toll that racism takes on our black and brown bodies. If you survive the actual – beating, shooting – you can look forward to dying earlier than your white counterparts from the stressor indicators taking its toll. How lovely!

      Thanks for the reblog too Desi. The more people understand, the better our conversations on and about race will be, I think.

  5. DesiBjorn says:

    Reblogged this on The Angriest Black Man in America and commented:
    Good personal perspective on police harassment.

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