“Driving While Black” can be hazardous to your health. Here’s a disturbing first-hand account of what happens when the cops lose their cool.
Whenever I’m wearing shorts, people ask where I got the scars that I wear on my right shin, and I have to decide whether I should tell the truth or feed whoever’s asking some roller blading story.
Here’s the true account of how I got those scars.
Its 2004, it’s a weeknight, and it isn’t particularly late—maybe 10 PM or so. I clock out after a long double shift of serving people subpar seafood and overpriced drinks. I hop into my car and barely make it a half a block when I see the lights in my rear view. My first thought is “Here we go.” Mind you, I’m driving a brand new car. I pull into the nearest parking lot, cut the engine, and prepare my license and insurance for inspection.
The officer approaches my window and asks me to step out of the vehicle. Now I’m no lawyer, but this seems to me to be a bit out of the ordinary. Here I am with valid license and insurance prepared for inspection, and I’m being asked to step out of my vehicle. I ask why, and the officer again asks me to step out of the vehicle. I ask why once again… as another cruiser pulls up. He asks me to step out of the vehicle a third time, and I begrudgingly oblige.
Once I’m out of the car, the officer asks me to put my hands on the vehicle. After a long shift, I’m completely befuddled as to why this gentleman is asking me to perform the actions of a criminal. So I object and say no—I will not put my hands on the vehicle without an explanation as to why. He is apparently not taking no for an answer, however, and by this time the officers from the late arrival cruiser are on scene and surrounding us. The questioning officer decides it prudent to force me to put my hands on the vehicle by putting his hands on me. He goes to grab me by the shoulder when I—as a trained Marine only one year removed from combat—instinctively knock his hand away.
Big mistake on my part.
All the officers descend upon me like I’ve just attempted to assassinate the president. I make my second mistake by putting up a fight, which ultimately leaves me curled up in the fetal position catching police batons to the shins. Once I’m finally subdued, I’m hogtied and thrown in the back seat of a police car. Long story short, I’m released from jail the next day with no charge, an infection to the wounds on my shins, an impounded car, an irate mother wanting to write a letter to the mayor and no explanation. Why?
People joke about DWB (Driving While Black), but it exists, and it’s prevalent. Thankfully I was not killed.
2014 saw a rash of killings of unarmed black males at the hands of police officers. I would give a number breakdown of police officer shootings by race—however, the FBI, or any other federal entity for that matter, keeps records of “unjustified police homicides.” Why is that? Perhaps it’s because the results wouldn’t cast a favorable light on police agencies across the country.
However, one anti-racist activist group did crunch the numbers. In 2012, the Malcom X Grassroots Movement released a report entitled “Operation Ghetto Storm,” where they found that 313 African Americans were extrajudicially killed at the hands of law enforcement. If you break that number down, it means that a black person was killed every twenty-eight hours by some form of law enforcement for the entire year of 2012. That’s a statistic that is not readily available to the public.
When will the violence cease? Blacks have been mistreated by law enforcement since bounty hunters were chasing down runaway slaves. The only difference now is that it’s a lot harder to get away with brutality when every Tom, Dick and Harry is carrying a cell phone capable of capturing live action. Because of this technological advance, police brutality and homicide have taken a front seat in the media. This can also be attributed to social media and the rapid distribution of news in the digital age.
There’s now a larger spotlight on police officers, which has caused a frenzy of protest seeking to reform police policy. Who is going to enact this reform? There hadn’t been an incident as volatile as Rodney King until the shooting of Ferguson resident Michael Brown. However, police violence towards young black males has never ceased to be a major issue, and blacks categorically get the short end of the law. So why is it now such a “major” issue if it’s been going on all this time?
There are a lot of answers to this question beyond than just the advance of technology. If you believe the conservative media, perhaps blacks have become more violent and police more fearful for their lives. Perhaps every ten years or so the police have to let go and purge to reset the aggression meter. One obvious prevailing truth is that restraint no longer has a seat in the police academy. This has caused a heightened sense of protect and serve from law enforcement, which leads to the killing of unarmed blacks that we’re now seeing.
I don’t claim to be a part of those who came before me who were involved in the civil rights movement, where police brutality was rampant and commonplace. But even in my humble existence, I’ve never been far from a police beating.
When I hear the reforms that law enforcement are prepared to take, I laugh. This is a deep-seated issue that goes far beyond police reform. The seed is planted deeply in the confines of the covert racist society in which we live. We can’t fix the police until we can fix the country—not until the media stops labeling dark-skinned individuals as inherent criminals. Not until cops stop beating and/or killing blacks and getting acquitted.
Some argue that according to the facts of the case, Darren Wilson was justified in killing an unarmed Michael Brown. And I say to those people: a man with a weapon shot a man without one. Bottom line, when the smoke clears, only one person is still living, and it isn’t the black kid two days away from starting community college.