As a young, black man, yes, I am afraid of police officers. My heart jumps straight up my throat when I see a cruiser or when I see those blue lights even if I’m not the intended target. But when I actually do get pulled over, which has happened three times if that matters (twice for speeding, once for a brake light), I become afraid to move, afraid to talk, afraid to reach for anything that’s not paperwork, and too afraid to break eye contact, all while shaking uncontrollably and trying to slow my heart rate.
People always say to blacks that there’s nothing to worry about as long as you’ve done nothing wrong. Oh, but there is. Amadou Diallo. Manuel Loggins Jr. Ronald Madison. Kendra James. Sean Bell. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Alton Sterling. Just a few black men and women who were shot and killed by police officers (a longer list can be found here in a story published by Los Angeles Time). Obviously, the circumstances of their deaths differ but for the most it’s largely because the officer(s) got intimidated and/or trigger happy.
Despite this, I am completely aware of the fact that cops portrayed in the media in cases like these are by no means representative of all cops. And I’m not going to pretend that all of these black people were completely innocent because some of them really were into some illegal activity which is most likely the reason they were shot. But some were literally just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that terrifies me.
It’s no secret that there is a negative connotation with dark skin. If this comes as a surprise to you, I encourage you to do a quick Google search. I’ve led a mostly fortunate life of avoiding racist encounters, yes, but unfortunately, there’s really nowhere to hide when it comes to racism. I’ve been called a nigger. I’ve been called retarded specifically because of my skin. I see the looks from pretentious white folk who think I’m beneath them. But I can safely say I haven’t actually had to fear for my life yet. So that’s something.
But even the most recent encounter I had with a cop was ridiculous even looking past the fear of my imminent demise. My brake light was out. Officer comes to my window as I’m paralyzed in fear and asks “Do you know why I pulled you over?” “No?” I reply as calmly as possible. Tells me about the light and without even giving me a chance to defend myself, writes the ticket. So I’m surprised that I’m even getting a ticket. And when I ask him why he’s giving me a ticket he spouts out some nonsense like “Well as responsible drivers, it’s our duty to…” all while I’m remembering how my white best friend was telling me just a week before about how he’d been stopped on three separate occasions by cops about his brake light and never got a ticket. Seems fair. But in the spirit of full transparency, I knew about the brake light beforehand but left it unfixed as a social experiment. Turned out exactly as I expected.
Conversely, I have friends who are cops. Friends of whom I can confidently say wouldn’t act in the way the cops portrayed in the news have and continue to do. And I’m sure by now there is some sort of special or additional training specifically to avoid such a tragedy in the future, but personally I am still genuinely afraid.
I shouldn’t have to be afraid of law enforcement. I shouldn’t have to be overly concerned about each minute movement I make when in the presence of a police officer. I should not have to be writing about this specifically right now.
I have been tiptoeing my whole life trying to stray away from giving anyone any reason to think ill of me prematurely. If I’m to be thought of negatively, I’d prefer it to be something like I have a less than optimal personality or conflicting views. But regrettably, my skin color has the potential to burn bridges before I even have the chance to cross. Which is a small thing compared to randomly being shot and killed by someone we’re supposed to trust with our safety.