Thursday, September 29, 2016

My Police Story (Part II)

I posted a few formative stories about my interactions with the police last week. I realized, though, in discussing the problems that exist in the country today, one encounter that I almost forgot about might be more important to share than any other. It was a completely non-formative encounter with the police, but likely because I'm white.

It was a Friday night after a high school basketball game. A few of the juniors had pranked our cars during the game - simple stuff: hair gel on the door handles, saran wrap, etc. But, being 17, we decided to respond. At about midnight, four of us were driving down Academy Boulevard in Colorado Springs - at the time, the main drag in town. The police pulled us over for having a tail light out. Four white guys in a junky, two-door sedan. I was in the back, with a friend, and 50 rolls of toilet paper, a case of shaving cream, a few packages of sardines, an an industrial size box of plastic utensils, among other things - courtesy of my employee discount at the 24 hour walgreens.

The police were polite, asked for license and registration, shone their lights in the back seat, where we hopelessly tried to find the haul we were literally buried in. He put up with out lies that we were heading home and up to nothing; there's no way he couldn't have known what was going on. We got a warning about the tail light and a "be safe out there, guys," and we moved on.

I hardly think about that story at all. It was innocuous. It made no impression on me, because I was a white kid in a white town and the police were not people to be scared of. Yeah, we thought they might take our toilet paper and tell us to go home, but I was never scared of even having my parents called, let alone being arrested or threatened or afraid.

I haven't thought about that incident in years until talking with someone about their police story, about how a black teenager in that situation might be better off running away than trying to talk their way out of it. The courts have said, at least in Boston, it might even be a good idea.

It wasn't formative for me, but this police story might be the most telling of my experiences when it comes to how policing and race intersect. White kids are brought up to seek out police - if you get lost or hurt or find yourself in trouble, we're told the police are our friends and they'll help us get through a rough deal. Black kids are often taught the opposite - if you get lost or find yourself in trouble, keep a low profile, avoid the police, find another way to get home; police will just make it worse.

Now I'm not going to say either of those lessons are always true, but they're certainly, sadly, more true than false - at least from my perspective. More reason, I think, to keep telling our stories. Things won't get better until we can be vulnerable and honest, listening to each other and living in the uncomfortable reality of someone else's story.

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