“You’re a nigger!”, my 10-year-old neighbor yelled, pointing at me and scoffing. I had been playing outside with my other friend, Sarah, and this older girl, Samantha, had walked up to me and started yelling racial slurs. I was utterly shocked. I felt like somebody had punched me in the stomach and knocked the wind out of me. So that’s what I did to her, and as she fell to the ground, I ran home and cried.
This was my first encounter with racism and it hurt.
My family and I grew up in a suburban, predominantly white neighborhood and as I grew older, instances like this weren’t as surprising anymore. While people didn’t come up and yell the word in my face, they were certainly not shy about calling each other “my nigga” or, for all of the fake tan girls, “my little niglets”, even when me or my 5 black peers (the entire school’s black population) were within earshot.
Although that first experience was jarring to me, it was nothing like what happened to a relative of mine, who we’ll call Justin (as he chooses to remain anonymous). While it happened about a decade ago, I was reminded of his experience recently due to the evident racial unrest in our country and the prevalent issue of distrust between police and the black community FINALLY coming to light.
He experienced racism first hand at the hands of the local police department in our home town. This morning, he and I discussed the incident. Generally, all of the police brutality/racial profiling reports in the news have featured a white, male cop, so I have to admit that I was surprised when he told me that this particular cop was a woman.
“I was pulled over because my “window tint” was excessive,” Justin said.
He also wanted to make it clear that this certain police officer made a U-turn on a major highway across four lanes of traffic to begin the police stop.
He described the interaction as follows:
Police Officer: Hello, I pulled you over because of your window tint. How many times have you been arrested?
Justin: Well hello, my windows aren’t tinted and I have never been arrested…
The police officer then proceeded to ask why Justin had rolled his windows up when he was pulled over.
“This is a loud highway and I want to hear you,” he replied to the officer, indicating that she was digging for reasons to suspect something was going on.
At this point, three additional patrol cars pulled up behind Justin’s vehicle, and he was told that he needed to exit the vehicle because it was “too dangerous for the officer on the side of the road”.
At this time, a second police officer opened Justin’s passenger side door – which Justin later learned was illegal – and picked up a piece of what Justin describes as a dried leaf, telling him it was marijuana. They then informed him that they needed to search his vehicle.
“Full disclosure: I did have a small amount of (MJ) in my car”, Justin says.
At this point two additional police cars pulled up (for all of you math geniuses out there the count is now up to 5 cars) and proceeded to arrest Justin and search his car, making a complete mess of it.
Justin fast forwards to the court date.
“My parents and I felt that this was a complete sham and case of racial profiling so we took the case to court. We lawyered up and waited.”
At the court hearing, even Justin admits that he was surprised at the final outcome.
“As my case was read to the court, my lawyer opened a line of questioning to the arresting officer who, from my recollection, looked mildly stunned that this person of color (me) was sitting there with a lawyer for such a small case,” Justin recalls.
At the time in Bucks County, the population was (and probably still is) ninety-eight percent caucasian.
“So, my lawyer asks her and the court if she is aware that I am African American – to which she (the officer) responds ‘yes’.”
“My lawyer then asks the fatal question that sunk her case and proved that racial profiling does exist even in the nicest, most non-violent communities in the country.
My lawyer says “Then can you explain to me why you called backup on a citizen with no speeding tickets, no arrests, no violations of any kind. This information is available to you is it not?””
To this, the officer responds, “I call for backup when I feel threatened”.
Justin shakes his head and says, “My lawyer leans over to me and says “I cannot believe she just said that in open court”.”
“My lawyer says to the court: “So you felt threatened by someone who has no record, no speeding tickets and appears to be only 18 years old?”.
At this point Justin’s lawyer asked for a meeting at the bench with the judge and proceeded to explain to the judge and the officer that she had just openly admitted to the court that she racially profiled him and used excessive measures to detain him, to which the judge agrees and drops the charges.
Justin sits forward and looks me in eye, “This happens every day in America, and unfortunately minorities do not have the resources to fight these injustices. This opened my eyes to the fact that even in a community with one of the lowest crime rates in America, people of color are immediately looked upon as criminals.”
He’s absolutely right. Whether the police officer knowingly profiled him or not, her actions proved that even in her own mind, someone with no record, and no indication of violence requires backup, just in case this person of color decides to act like the stereotype that we repeatedly see on TV. Police officers, the people who are trained and sworn in to protect us from harm, are scared of us.
“Needless to say I’ve passed her many times on the road after that, and I’ve never been pulled over again,” Justin says as he stares off into an unknown void above my head, “I drove that same car for two more years in that township…I never had a problem with my window tint again.”