A police officer once told me the reason they loved their job so much was because the "customer is always wrong until they're proven right"
I was sixteen years old when I heard this. I was outside, talking with my dad before heading to my retail job when the squad car stopped in front of our house. Being from a small town, a police officer stopping by your house in their squad car in the middle of the day wasn't out of the ordinary; Odds are, we know them and their family. The driver of this squad car: the chief of police. Yes, it was the chief of police that uttered those words to my father and me. He said them effortlessly, a clear indicator that he believed this wholeheartedly. My dad and I looked at each other, disbelief across our faces. We didn't say anything.
A few hours later, when I was home from my shift, my dad apologized for his words. "Not all cops think that way," he told me. "I don't want you to think that they do." He then proceeded to tell me that when I get pulled over, how I should handle myself.
When, not if.
This, I have come to realize, was my father's way of telling me that it being pulled over was inevitable. The difference for the two of us, however, was that one of us was white and the other black. He didn't say it explicitly, but I believe that was his way of preparing me to deal with all law enforcement: the good and the bad. Being a black child in a white family, there were things that were explained to me in a certain way. From my point of view, it was to prepare me for when the day would come that my black skin would be the only thing that people saw instead of my character. I never thought I was any different, especially in the eyes of the police. It wasn't until after this conversation with my dad that I realized that things would be very different for me. A few months later, I was pulled over for the first time.
I had never been so nervous in my life. The blue and red lights flashed, the siren sounded. The voice came over the loud speaker telling me to pull over. It was a holiday around ten in the morning, I was driving my truck - a "hand-me-down" 1987 Ford F-150 - around the empty streets. A cautious driver, I wasn't sure why I was being pulled over in the first place. My dads words were in my head: turn off the engine, keep your hands on the wheel until they tell you to reach for something. Always announce before you reach for anything. I handed him my license and registration. He went back to his vehicle. My palms were sweating but I was too nervous to wipe them on my pants, or grab a napkin that were kept in my glove box. When he returned, he said my "last name sounded familiar" - a testimonial I would come to realize was synonymous with "I know your parents and I didn't know they had a black child". I was fortunate enough to be left with a warning.
It was never disclosed why I was pulled over.
There are many things that make me nervous in the presence of police, especially now. With the number of unarmed black men and women being shot by police, it makes me wonder if I might be next. I am one of those people that thinks that not all cops are like these few. But I can't help but notice how the band of brothers don't condemn them. If a teacher is charged with sexually assaulting a child, you find teachers saying that it's not all teachers. Silence from the police when one of their own - the bad apple in the bunch - shoots an unarmed person. Instead, it seems as if they're defended; that for some they're heroes.
I struggle with this every day. I struggle with not knowing if the next time I get pulled over, if it'll be by a trigger happy cop, or one of the good ones. The uniform and badge mean nothing to me, right now. The uniform and badge have me fearful. The uniform and badge mean something different to me, and others living with brown and black skin, than it does to our white counterparts.
I hope things can change. Until then, know this:
My skin color is not a crime
Title: Don't Don't Do It
Artist: N.E.R.D & Kendrick Lamar
Year Released: 2017