Black Girl, Red State*: Stopped by Cops

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* Disclaimer: Black Girl, Red State is a column. It deals with Race and Social Issues, and is devoted to Understanding. It shares inner feelings of a Black student in a predominately White state. It is an opinion piece. The title and material are personal to the writer but provide a narrative that she believes is needed for readers to understand the message and feelings that she is trying to get across.

My parents held conversations with me as a child about what to do when encountering a police officer. Growing up I didn’t understand why my mother and father needed to stress this to me, but I remember wondering if it was a fear of all parents or just mine. Getting stopped by a cop walking on my way home was straining enough, but as I grew older and began to drive it became a bigger fear of mine. Especially in the nighttime where darkness can cloud and distort the view of a common object and make the officer fear for their life. The color of my skin can instill fear no matter what my intention is. A powerful thing to do, but a gift I wish sometimes I didn’t have. Not because I’m ashamed of who I am, but what it could do to the mind of another in a split second.

When I come into contact with a police officer my hands get sweaty, my mind begins to replay all the things my mother stressed and like a piercing scream it echoes in my brain as if it’s a checklist to ensure I make it home safely . . . now I know that it is: “Keep your hands where they can see them. Before you reach for anything ask for permission. Don’t move too fast, do everything in a slow motion so that the officer is able to see that you are not a threat. Answer everything respectfully. Make sure your voice doesn’t raise. Don’t argue. Don’t get agitated.”

For all my life, these sentences swirled in my mind whenever getting pulled over no matter who was driving.

In New Hampshire, the encounters I’ve had certainly haven’t been pleasant. There are not many officers here that look like me, there’s not many people that look like me in this state. Every interaction gives off the vibe that their anticipation for something to go wrong is at an all-time high when dealing with African American people. So, in some ways I feel like I could never identify with them. Male police officers often mistake me for a man and can be very insulting until they realize that I am a female and then the situation lightens up. That adds to my dread. I remember a time asking peers of mine if they had this same feeling too. Those within the group and who shared the same color and upbringing didn’t hesitate to say yes, this was common. Finally, I felt like I wasn’t alone. The fear wasn’t just made up. It lived in all of us, but in retrospect I ask myself why I even posed that question, it was something I desperately wanted to know but I don’t think I was ready for a reply other than yes.

I heard his outburst of laughter first, and his reply blew me away. “No, that’s stupid. I don’t think anyone has a full lesson training on that as a kid. Your parents were just too overprotective, lighten up.” It was then that I realized that our worlds were so different. I constantly lived in a fear that he was unbothered by. It shocked me because these talks didn’t only happen in my home, as my other friends validated for me, but it didn’t happen in his.

A hard pill to swallow but his skin tone ruled him out of oppression and injustice and he will never be able to understand his privilege. Officers would most likely give him multiple verbal warnings before using incapacitation as their means of force. I ask myself why? When will we get the benefit of the doubt?

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