On Being Policed While Black
A List of my suspicious behavior. Reasons to call the cops on me:
While I have been observed walking alone-
Hands in pockets
Hands out of pockets
Looking in my purse
Walking close to the residential side of the sidewalk
Walking too close to the road
Carrying more than one bag
Carrying grocery bags
Being on a cell phone
Wearing a hoodie with the hood up
Waving at someone
Talking to someone
Looking at my phone
Other things cops have warned me against:
Being on my porch reading
Standing at a bus stop reading
Waiting for a bus at a bus stop
Opening my bag and removing any objects, mainly books
Swaying to music playing in my headphones
Appearing to be a sex worker at a bus stop
Knowing where high street sex work traffic happens and doesn’t
Standing near other Black people
Being a block away from a fight where there may or may not have been Black people involved
Walking into a mall
Carrying things I purchased in the mall
Speaking to other Black people in public
Being observed, allowing a young Black man (he was maybe 16) to use my phone. He called his Mom and she thanked me for letting him do so.
Standing repacking my groceries to walk home
Walking home with groceries
Being sociable with homeless people
Sitting in the park reading
Asking for police help when I was groped
Asking for police help when I was flashed
Reporting a person harassing and abut to harm another person
Standing on the wrong square of pavement while waiting for a bus at a bus stop. I was told I was in the way on a clear sidewalk.
Telling a White woman no in a strong tone of voice. She tried to touch my hair, I “threatened” her with my tone and she called the cops.
Behaving suspiciously at a bus stop alone. Pointing out that a man was urinating on the building across the street.
Things I have learned not to do because of police attitudes:
Calling police while I was being followed. He drunk man was not threatening me because he was dangerous, obviously it was because I was a hooker who reneged on a deal. Clearly I should not have wasted their time.
Cops following me home without ever speaking to me or them waiting to see where I’m going is totally fine.
Reporting a kicked in door in my apartment complex means I should be grilled about people I don’t know because there was rumor that one of the former occupants was Black.
Crying when I’m frightened by the manner in which police speak to or confront me is grounds for potential arrest.
After being mugged, going into a nice store to ask for a paper towel or tissue is not the appropriate course of action. Again tears and panic are reasons to be threatened with immediate arrest for trespass.
Any tone is the wrong tone.
Reading any kind of book is deeply suspicious.
Being polite to people I see all the time if they are also Black and/or suspicious likely means I am a criminal.
Ways this has impacted my life:
As a child, I was taught like other children that police officers are who you go to when you are unsafe. Who you tell when something is wrong, that they will protect you and save you.
Not all of my police contact has been bad. Once when I was a child, I remember hugging a police officer around the legs and clinging like a baby sloth crying my eyes out because a terrifying man had tried to get in the car with my Mother and me. I remember very clearly that he promised to protect us until my Dad got there.
As an adult, I lived in a very White very wealthy area. I walked home every night (don’t get it twisted I only lived there because I had a friend) and one night I fell. I not only fell I spilled everything in my bag in the pitch dark on the side of the road. A police cruiser stopped, spotlighted my things and not my face. The older cop got out of his car, asked if I was okay and asked me my name and things you might ask someone when you first meet them.
What made this stand out to me was the fact that this police officer treated me like a human being he was interested in. After he saw that I was okay except for skinned knees and hands, he helped me with my stuff, cleaned my hands and knees and insisted on driving me home and waiting until my partner let me inside. For the next few months I lived there, he always stopped to just chat with me when he saw me.
Now for those who want to tell me how none of these things are race related, let me break something important down to you.
Between my initial childhood trust of police and adulthood, I learned that my trust was misplaced. Even before the police began killing Black people at the height of lynching rates, I figured out that protect and serve does not include me.
The behavior of police towards me when in theory I have done absolutely nothing to warrant it, has been dehumanizing and at times cruel.
I have been mocked, threatened and terrified.
For doing little more than walking.
When I lived in a very White neighborhood in Seattle, someone watched for me every morning when I got off of work and called the police on me every morning for months. Months. Memories of that is what sparked this piece. There was literally nothing I could do to prevent this.
During that time period, not one was I given a citation or ticket. Not once when I was searched did they find anything inappropriate. Not once was there adequate, accurate reasons for me to be stopped. The one time the police officer who arrived was not White, he let me know what was going on and recommended I try a different stop or a different time.
Eventually I decided to avoid frightening the anonymous White person who never spoke to me by taking the bus about a half mile out of my way and walking where there were no residences. It was poorly lit and I was afraid every morning, but, I was not stopped by the police daily.
Almost every day, I have a series of thoughts. I wonder if I will see another Black person turned into a hashtag and their lives dragged through the mud because they have been murdered by police. I wonder how many more usually decent White people I’m going to have to block on social media because obviously anyone who is Black and breathing is a thug and deserves to be extra judiciously executed, for jaywalking or just being inhumanly scary and Black.
I wonder if one of those people, many of whom I have loved for years, will write novel length screeds against teenagers who don’t know or don’t care about the Beatles but utter not a word when I express my pain or fear about being a Black person in America right now.
When I watch cop cars slow way own, so the officer can get a good long look at me while I am waiting to cross a street or standing at my bus stop reading, my heartbeat quickens and I pray someone is close by with a camera phone just in case. Not that it matters really.
The worst thing I feel like I can admit is this.
On the nights when my commute is dangerous or strange men are threatening to rape and murder me, I wonder if I call the police and they arrive: will they shoot me first and leave me in the street to die because I deserved it?
That is the reality of how angry, anxious and afraid I am of the people who are suppose to protect and serve.
In my heart of hearts, I don’t want to be this jaded. I don’t want to be afraid. I want to be treated with dignity and respect.
That’s all I want.