Because You Looked Suspicious…

Growing up Black, there are a few things you learned very quickly. One of those things was the tense relationship Black people have with police. Although, no one said it to me directly or told me the reasons why when I was a kid, I always felt the looming sense of fear and suspense when they showed up in our neighborhoods.

They would come like starved dogs sniffing for a steak. They would come with multiple sqaud cars waiting to haul men away. The neighborhood would stand still as if time would stop when they showed up. Balls stopped dribbling, kids stopped running, women stopped stalking, and Black men would stand straight with stiff necks. All because the twelve showed up at two. I would watch from the window as people cowered and whispered. Women clutched their hearts, hoping it wasn’t their son they were coming for. Hoping that the men they had captured would be okay.

I lived in close proximity to drug dealers, who at the time, I thought were just men who just hung out on the corners with extreme amounts of money- childish delusions. They would buy me cookies and tell me I was going to grow up to be a heartbreaker (I’m sorry that 19 years later, I have sadly disappointed them). To me, they were nice young men in my neighborhood. So when the police came, especially for them, I was so baffled. They would run frantically and look for hide outs. The police would grab them and put them on the sidewalks. Put them on display for the entire block to see. They were handcuffed and scolded. So you could imagine how terrifying and unfair that looked through the eyes of a six year old. Police officers who were almost always men, who were almost always white, shouting in the faces of young men who looked liked me. They would be hauled away and almost never returned, to be replaced by a new set of guys standing on the corner. My idea of police started with this. When officers in my neighborhood would take post and wave to us kids coming home from school, I often felt my stomach flip. They would assist in crossing the street to make us forget about the scene they had caused the night before.

As I grew, my ideas about police never got any better because most of the encounters I saw them have with people in my neighborhood were hostile. There were home invasions, lost cases of people they didn’t care about, and useless help from calls made that were never responded to. It wasn’t until I was 17 that I would have my own encounter with police that reshaped my silent caution about police.

I was maybe a month removed from high school graduation. My best friend and I were sitting in her first car- a minivan in a mute color. She was double parked but not blocking the flow of traffic. We were gossiping about graduating and whatever high school drama could still be lingering after graduation. A police circled the block three times. I remember her saying, “ugh let me just pull over so he doesn’t say anything.” A second after she parked, the police office put on his siren, pulled behind her, then stepped out of his car. He said he we looked suspicious sitting in the car talking. He also said she tried to drive away when he signaled her. The officer didn’t signal her in any way. He circled the block three times. We looked at each other and we were frozen. I took a deep breathe. My entire life, I had heard bad stories about police and what they do to Black people. The officer was angry. His brows were furrowed and he banged on the window of the car. She rolled down the window. Instantly, he shined a blinding flashlight in our eyes. He was yelling. He was demanding license or ID. There was another siren and another officer flashing a light in the passenger seat window. That was followed by lights shining in the back seat of her car. There was a police van behind us. My heart was beating triple time. I had never been arrested in my life and I hadn’t had many personal encounters with the police. This was my first one and it was unpleasant. We were severely scolded. We were temporarily blinded by flashlights and had several other unnecessary officers waiting for us with a police van. At the time, I didn’t realize that we were kind of lucky to be able to reflect on that moment later in our lives. He let us off with a warning. After they drove away, we sat angry for a moment. I went into my house, thinking about being yelled at by a police officer. I sat thinking about the flashlights in our eyes and the flashlights searching her back seat through the window. I thought about the police van. I looked in the mirror, trying to see if I looked suspicious in my work uniform- a green polo shirt. My friend in a black graphic muscle tank.

We were two Black girls sitting in a car. Two Black girls laughing about non sense we can’t even remember now. Two Black girls who looked so suspicious that the officer needed more officers and a police van. This was my first personal encounter with police. It wasn’t a pleasant dialogue or directions because I was lost. It wasn’t a friendly officer telling me to stay in school. It was an angry man yelling and flashing lights. That is rather mild compared to public beatings, public executions, and tear gas. That moment along with the murder of Trayvon Martin shifted my perspective about a lot of things including law enforcement. At that time in my life, I reflected on seeing men on the ground when I was six. I thought about my boyfriend at the time telling me how police harassed him and treated him like an adult at the age of 13. I thought about the amount of white police officers in my neighborhood with scowls and faces turned red from the anger of having to patrol Penn North.

I knew from a young age that Black people had a very complicated relationship with police. It wasn’t until I had this encounter that made me realize that police weren’t for us or created by us.

I Could Have Just Went Home

As I stared in the mirror in that stale-stenched bathroom, I knew I had fucked up. How had I gotten myself into this? I was just spending a casual night with my best friend/former roommate, and now I was hiding in her boyfriend’s bathroom. How quickly a favor asked can spiral into hours of reluctant participation in this awkward sitcom-esque scene. I was sick. To be honest though, the bathroom was slightly cleaner than I would have expected two or three college boys to keep it. I was grateful for the lack of shit stains around me, but I was more concerned with the amount of time I had before my friend returned to the apartment. Hiding in other people’s homes rarely goes well. As I stood waiting in silence, I became increasingly convinced of my imminent capture. Each second was more stressful than the last, and I just wanted to go home.

I’m pretty sure the night had begun under normal circumstances. I’d probably gone to my English and business classes. I may have eaten lunch at home because Chipotle hadn’t yet figured out its E. coli situation. I had gas in the car. I remember feeling really good about the way my fro had formed that day, so I was probably excited to be out and about with my friend, Tam. I didn’t live on campus anymore, so I would usually drive us to hang out somewhere after class before I went home. Tam had been fighting with her boyfriend the past few days, but they fought all the time so I thought little of it. I just listened to her current story of how he’d hurt her feelings this time. Most women with guy troubles have the same story every week, but hers were more and more dramatic every time. I chalked it up to them just being extra and angsty like every other young person in love. I did not think my proximity to this relationship would affect me in any way. I just continued to listen to her story.

By what I’d thought was the end of the night, we were parked outside her dorm building so we could rap for a little bit. Since I’d left campus, we hadn’t been seeing each other as often and always wanted to catch up.This usually meant sitting in the car for hours just talking about things on the minds of 20-year-old women. I’m guessing this is when she started talking about her man again. I think I remember her saying they’d broken up “for good this time,” and that she was fine and going to move on. But she could not believe that he wasn’t texting her back after a full day. It didn’t sit well with her spirit. She was clearly concerned and hinting that she wanted to see him. I must have been in a particularly positive mood that night, because I offered to drive her to his apartment. I didn’t want to let my friend walk to his place alone if I could help and, I have to admit, I was a little amused by the whole thing.My curiosity tends to lead me into some real shit.

While I’m driving up the block, Tam calls the boy at least twice with no answer. I believe he also sent her some long, cryptic text about his life and their relationship. If you haven’t caught on by now, this story has gotten a little hazy over the years. I was not high. Anyway, I pull up to the building expecting him to answer her call and let her in so I can go home.  Lesson #795423 about depending on a man for anything. She proceeds to call this man dozens of times with no answer. I’m confident that she called him at least 40 times in less than an hour before she got blocked. Now the whole thing just seemed kind of cruel. At this point I’m still a little intrigued but, while I want to support my friend, I’m not as hesitant to go home.

Now that we know calling him isn’t going to work, Tam comes up with a plan. You usually need a fob to get into the building but you really just need to be at the door the moment someone walks out. So she tells me she’s going to wait in the less-than-optimal night weather for someone to open the door and head upstairs. I agree to wait for her outside in case he doesn’t answer his door to let her in. I guess it wouldn’t have been a good story if he had let her in. Shortly after she leaves the car, we both end up inside the building. I don’t know if I was asked to come inside or if I volunteered, but we were marching like soldiers and Tam was now on plan B. Mind you, her boyfriend is still not answering the phone so, of course, he doesn’t answer the apartment door. We are now on Mission: Trespassing. Tam thinks to call one of her boyfriend’s roommates and ask him when he’s coming back. Apparently, of all four roommates, this one is the least shitty and only one who would help. He says he’s coming back from the cafeteria in ten or fifteen minutes, and he’ll let her in. I’m only slightly worried that something will go wrong, and only slightly less amused. As multiple residents walk past, we talk about which ones we recognize and how much of their business we know. Finally, the traitor roommate shows up and he does not look at all worried or confused about why his roommate’s girlfriend is calling HIM to get into the apartment they share! I figure he must be crazy and used to dealing with crazy women. No shade to Tam. She tells him what’s going on and he says he’ll let us in, but he’s leaving out afterward so he can only do it once. I’m thinking I can finally make it out of here! No. Commencing: Tam’s plan C.

There’s no one in the living room or kitchen and her boyfriend’s bedroom door is locked with the lights out. She knocks on the door asking if he’s in there and to be let in. Now this is the haziest part of the story because I have do not understand how I agreed to be in this bathroom. I remember Tam laughing and smiling at the absurdity of her request: I was to hide in the bathroom so that I could let her back into the apartment when she got back from God knows where because I have NO idea why she needed to leave! WTF, Tam?! But she did. And there I was, standing in this dingy bathroom shaking my head at my reflection. I hit the dougie real quick because why not? At this point in my life, this was the wildest thing that had ever happened to me. I have no idea how long I stayed in there. Maybe it was ten minutes, or maybe it was thirty-five. My phone probably died. Every time I heard a bump or scrape, I knew it was my time. I just KNEW I was going to get caught, so I prepared myself for what I would say to the first boy who saw me and asked what the hell my stranger ass was doing in his bathroom. Just when I’d decided not to throw Tam under the bus and to just take my simple ass home, I finally heard what I’d been dreading. The door knob turned, and I was ready to fight! The door swung open, and it was Tam. Apparently she made it back into the apartment just fine. I don’t remember her explanation, but I was now ready to say my good-byes and find my exit. I’d had enough excitement for the night. That’s when I saw that at least one of the other roommates was home, and our attempts to remain inconspicuous fell to shit. Then there was a second boy. This was not good. I couldn’t leave Tam in there with these raggedy boys and her possibly absent boyfriend. One of them started taunting her asking her why and how she got in his “house”. He was acting how ugly men typically act when witnessing a beautiful woman get dogged by a relatively more attractive guy: gleeful. It was so ugly. Of course, her boyfriend continued to ignore her knocking and pleas for him to answer the door. The tension was getting too thick and the night was getting too late. I was so embarrassed and angry for her that I eventually convinced her to just leave with me. It was a whole mess, up and down.

The night didn’t end well and Tam’s boyfriend continued to be a fuck boy until they made up again by the end of the week. The point is this all happened and I was not drunk or under any kind of influence whatsoever. I was just 20 and bored. Please check on your younger siblings and friends and tell them to go home because they’re probably out doing something stupid.

The End.