I have had several run ins with the police. I am not a criminal. I am not involved in illegal activities. I am a black man who lives in Alabama, and in a series of unfortunate events, that seems to be a crime within itself. I have been cuffed, frisked, and threatened, as well as spoken to in an unprofessional manner, though, I have never been arrested, or formally charged with any crime. My entire life, I have strived to be a law abiding citizen by paying my taxes on time, obeying traffic laws and ordinances and not partaking in illegal drug use of any kind. My entire life I have been told to be respectful of authority, particularly police officers, since the power they yield could be used to my detriment. I don’t expect a perfect world. I never have, nor do I even believe that to be possible. But recent events and conversations have caused me to view law enforcement in an entirely different manner. Recently, I had an officer, who while frisking me, brusquely asked if I had anything on me that could hurt him or piss him off. Instead of replying, “No sir,” as I knew I should have, I found myself saying, “I don’t know. I’m black with some college education and ambition. How do I know if that pisses you off?” I don’t know why I said this, but the officer’s response pushed me to a place where mentally, I had never been before. He began to lecture me about my attitude and how I “couldn’t assume that he was racist”. This struck me as ironic, since he had assumed since I was young black man, that I was some sort of threat. He had assumed that because I swerved ONE time while texting that surely I must be drunk. He had even gone so far as to assume that I had made the assumption that he was racist. He asked me why I was so jumpy, if I had something to hide. I responded, that two strangers with guns are standing in front me, who wouldn’t be jumpy. I didn’t say, two white men, two racists, or anything of that nature, yet again, the assumption was made that I was alluding to them being racist or corrupt. His response was that I had no right to be jumpy, especially since I could see his badge. I ask you, has a police officer ever opened fire on an innocent man, black or white, and gunned them down in cold blood? How would one identify such an officer? Would they not be dressed just as any other officer? Wouldn’t their attitude, the way they approached you, what they said to you, wouldn’t that be your first clue that this officer is apparently bent on using his power in less of a capacity to protect and serve than his brethren? After he finished lecturing me, I turned to him, I asked him if I needed to take a breathalyzer to proof my sobriety, or was he going to continue to detain me without good reason. He gave me a look of sheer anger, as if he could not stand that fact that he wasn’t taking me to jail and let me go on my way.
In this case, what did I say wrong? What did I do that should have incurred the wrath of upholder of the law? Did I curse the officer? No. Even my choice of words, though spoken clearly and with conviction, were not disrespectful. The police officer asked me a question, and I answered his questions freely and truthfully. Should I have “played the nigga” in fear? Fear that he may assault me unjustly? Fear that he may even take my life? I refuse to yield to such fear. I refuse to relinquish my rights for my life. I’m not saying take up arms against the police, nor am I supporting the murder of those who choose to serve their community in this way. Nor am I saying we should treat officers of the law with a minimal amount of respect. What I am saying is demand your rights. We are free men and women and we are equal citizens. No one would be allowed to tell us otherwise, so why would we allow someone to treat us otherwise? There are legal recourses available to each of us, should we find ourselves in a situation where someone who is supposed to protect and serve decides to overstep his boundaries. Often I have heard people say that reporting an officer doesn’t work, or that you’ll be marked as a rabble rouser, or as someone who can look forward to further harassment. That is fear. That is a system of control that those who would corruptly wield their power benefit from. Do not be afraid to stand up for what you know to be right. Do not yield simply because you are afraid of some sort of retaliation. You are a citizen. There is no distinction between us when it comes to our rights. Don’t let anyone treat as if there were.