At 12 I Knew Police Were Not To Be Trusted
I never gave much thought to police, that is, until the day I would be forced to think differently about them.
As a youngin, I grew up on the motto that police were to protect and serve. In an emergency they were the first people to dial. Our safety was their top concern. In elementary school, a police officer gave a presentation on the D.A.R.E program, which stood for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, the substance abuse prevention education program to prevent the use and abuse of controlled drugs. Students signed a pledge promising not to use drugs or to join a gang. From then on, I began to identify police officers with the program. I spotted D.A.R.E. stickers on the bumper of passing police vehicles. The branding of police officers as crime stoppers, heroes, and good people invoked trust. I trusted these officers black or white to do their job and to do it justly. My innocent view of these service men changed at the age of 12 when my mother was arrested for a traffic violation by the Chicago Police Department.
Until I was 16, I grew up on the south side of Chicago two blocks east of Ashland. Some people considered it the Beverly area, a community home to a large portion of American/Catholic and Irish establishments and where the demographic consist of mostly whites at 58%. Since my block and surrounding blocks were 99% black and I lived within walking distance of public schools although I didn’t consider my neighborhood the ghetto or diverse, it was in every sense black. South Winston Ave stretched for two long blocks and both blocks were one-way streets.
The second block in which I lived were a T intersection. As a shortcut to our home we’d turn left from the intersection and onto the one-way street and quickly into our driveway. The length from the intersection to our home was about 100 to 200 feet or the equivalent of two houses. On a day eager to get home it beat driving down lengthy Winston.
It was a summer night my mother was arrested for violating the one-way traffic sign. She was eager to make it home to me after my sister left out for work. I had not been alone for more than ten minutes when my mother pulled into the driveway. In her rearview mirror red and blue lights flickered. The police pulled behind my mother onto our property. A white woman with a hard exterior stepped out the marked vehicle. “Whose car are you driving?” the officer asked first. My mother drove an s80 Volvo. It was the typical car driven by white, middle class families and we didn’t live in a white, middle class area so in other words, my mother had no business driving such a car. My mother responded “whose car you think?” and that reply, though plausible did not sit well with the officer.
The officer told my mother to step out the car while she ran her license and as a shock to my mother the officer reported the license suspended. The officer attempts to put my mother in custody by telling her to get in the back of the police car. My mother refuses. At this time the officer calls for back up. Three squad cars approach the house, their sirens sounding off in unison. The police attempt to arrest my mother.
For a while they tussle on the lawn. More squad cars are called to the scene. Left and right next- door neighbors sprawl from their homes. The officers tell the neighbors if they don’t go back inside they will make this a felony. One officer took out a Ziploc bag with what likely were drugs. The others put on gloves following suit. They are setting the scene for a crime. Without probable cause or a warrant the car is searched and detained. Clearly, I remember reaching my small hand into the Volvo and an officer stretched out his arm before me saying, “if you touch anything I’ll plant drugs.”
When they were done searching they drove the car off the property and to the 111th precinct in Morgan Park. The officers took away my mother in handcuffs and without concern for my well-being abandoned me on the front lawn. At the department my mother was chained to a pipe while the officers involved joked about the arrest. Upon release she was given four tickets: (1) resisting arrest, (2) no proof of license (the license was in the car but could not be obtained at time of search), (3) no proof of insurance (also in car but could not be obtained at time of search), and (4) violating the road sign. All of this for a minor traffic violation that had my mother been white at the most a warning would have ensued.
In court, the judge immediately dismissed the case. The tickets were thrown out and she was given back her license. The license, in fact, that was never suspended.
At 12-years-old I stopped holding the police in high regard. My respect for the authority figures throughout my teenage years waned. These were the same people who in grade school stressed the importance of abstaining from drugs through the D.A.R.E. program, but misused their power in an attempt to make my family out to be drug consumers. These were the same people I made a vow not to join a gang, but worked together to nearly organize a crime against me.
My mother made a mistake that night going down the street in the wrong direction and by law she was held accountable. But when police officers commit wrongdoing especially in the eyes of children they are slapped on the wrist. Thirteen years later I still have anxiety at the mere sight of an officer. Their power and influence is enough to instill fear in the defenseless.
Just as my trust in officers was weakened at a young age likely the same can be said for the daughter of Diamond Reynolds and the children of Alton Sterling who witnessed their fathers die a senseless death at the hands of policemen.
Police officers then wonder why when we mature we run the minute an officer makes eye contact, we attempt to give chase running away from our past, or are upfront from the very beginning we are pulled over. From youth we have been conditioned to not trust police to protect and serve. Throughout the years the relentless actions of police brutality on black and brown men and women of color the latter remains to be seen.