Eric Garner is just the latest casualty. This writer, a black upper-middle-class woman, has been stalked by law enforcement since she was a little girl. You can probably guess why.
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… is the title of the article I clicked. There is a smartphone video of the encounter. The officers want to arrest him, but he’s the one who broke up the fight they were called to in the first place. The officers swarm him. They take him down. “I can’t breathe!” he cries, but the officers choke him silent, another casual homicide. The police report claims the usual uncreative rhetoric. He refused arrest. He was unruly. He looked threatening.
To me, Eric Garner looked frightened. I type up a response to the video, expressing my disgust. The next comment is from a girl I’ve known since grade school. “Why blame the police?” she cries with a superfluous use of question marks and exclamation points. “We can’t know what he did to provoke them.” The next response comes from a white male, whose face I do not recognize. I only read the first sentence: This is not about race.
I am 8 years old. My parents buy me a helmet to go with my bike. It’s My Little Pony pink. It matches my bike. They had to buy it because a law has passed that requires children to wear helmets with their bikes. The law is stupid. I know this because no one can ride a bike better than I. I am so efficient I can bounce down the step bridge with my knees nestled in the seat. So every day on my way to school, I hide the helmet in the bushes next to Kevin’s house. He wears his helmet proudly. It’s Hot Wheels red.
We ride to school together.
We ride to Tae Kwon Do together.
One day, on our way home we run into a policeman who is parked by the bridge that connects Bay Farm Island to Alameda. He is leaning against the hood of his car, staring up at the sun. His olive-toned skin is slick with a glow that can only come from lotion. He wears silver aviators that reflect the light of the sky. His hair is black, cut down his face like Bruce Lee. As we near him, I feel guilty, very guilty. I’m quite sure now that he is Bruce Lee, back from the dead and ready to give me a ticket.
I hop off my bike but Kevin pedals faster, deserting me in the face of danger. He already knows to run away from the police. I walk up to Bruce Lee cop, bike by my side painfully ill with my guilt—and I wait and wait and wait for him to notice me. Finally he pops up. He rips off his aviators and stares at me with flattened eyes like he is confused.
“Where’s your helmet?” he finally asks.
“At home,” I mumble, “I’m sorry.”
I am sure he is going to take me to jail and my parents are going to be so angry. But Bruce Lee cop, he makes a scratching sound in his throat and rubs the back of his head. He lets time pass by the way I run from piano practice. Then finally Bruce Lee cop has made his decision. He shoves his aviators back on and looks away.
“I’ll be here tomorrow,” he says, “Wear your helmet. If I catch you without your helmet, I’ll call your parents.”
I wore my helmet every day after that.
I never saw him again.
“Why I Will Not March For Eric Garner” …
… is the name of the op-ed piece shared privately among a group of friends. A black woman writes that she cannot march for Eric Garner until these same outlets, black men included, show equal support for black women. I don’t agree with her, but I understand her frustration. I fight with a family member for understanding her frustration. “You’re a spoiled, sheltered brat,” he snaps. “You have no idea what it’s like to be hounded by the police!”
We’ve been conditioned to believe that only a certain type of person gets in trouble with the police, hoodrats, thugs. My mother used to tell me, “We raised you better than that.”
I’m 10 years old, and on the swim team and no matter where I go I have to practice. My mother and I are in Atlanta with my godmother, Jackie. We’re there to visit my godsister, Nicki, who is attending her first year at Spelman College. While Nicki is in class, Jackie and my mother drop me off at the swimming pool. The tennis courts are right next door. I do my laps, and when I rest at the edge of the pool, I watch them through the ivy covered that separates us. My mother’s back to me, her skirt fluttering up to reveal the back of her brown legs as she chases balls up and down the baseline.
I dive back in, reach the other end of the pool with one last stroke and my concentration is broken by a pair of legs splattered red in sunspots and blue spider veins, standing at the edge of the pool. They belong to an older woman with stark white hair so wispy they amplify the glare of the sun. She shields her eyes with her hand although she wears a neon green visor, and says through a clenched smile, “Young girl, are you here alone? I shake my head, point over to my mother who tosses her head back and laughs at something Jackie said. “You cannot be in here alone, what if you drown?” the lady says.
“It’s okay,” I say, “I’m on the swim team, I have the best butterfly stroke!”
She shakes her head. “Please get out of the pool and go to your mother.”
I obey her. I swim to the other end, pull myself out. I grab my towel, wrap it around me, and leaving a trail of wet footprints, make my way onto the tennis court, tiptoeing over the warm clay surface. I sit on the bench. Mother returns Jackie’s serve.
“Are you tired, Booby?” Mommy asks between breaths, focused on Jackie as she catches the ball in a backhand.
“A woman told me I couldn’t be in the pool alone,” I say.
“What?” My mother does a double take. She walks off the court as the ball flies past. “A woman what?”
“She told me to get out.”
Mommy takes my hand, marches me back to the pool where the woman still lurks. “This is my child,” my mother says, “I’m watching her, you do not have to worry.” The woman says nothing. She only stares. Stiff in a pose unnatural and lifeless like a Barbie without an owner. It scares me. My mother ushers me back into the pool, and waits for the woman to leave.
“Swim,” my mother says.
“I don’t think I— ”
And so, I swim, hesitant, until I have an idea! This is the perfect time to show off my butterfly, prove to the woman that she doesn’t have to worry. I dive back in and emerge from the water, my arms flying over my head. I recite to myself the rhythm—arms up, kick, pull down, kick, arms up, kick, pull down, kick—I come back out.
Mother is back playing tennis.
The woman is nowhere to be found.
I return to swim and swim and swim until I see the woman returning, but she isn’t alone. She’s with two policemen. She thrusts her pointer finger at me and I freeze right there, in the middle of the pool, bobbing back towards the edge. I know I’m in trouble.
The first one, he is white, he squats down, a hand resting on his gun handle. The second one is African American, he stands back, looking a bit puzzled, conflicted.
“She can’t be in here alone,” the lady says, “she could drown.”
The white cop with his hand on his gun says, “Can you get out the pool please?”
I start to pull myself out when I hear a scream. My mother and Jackie are sprinting toward us, rackets in hand.
“What are you doing?” my mother wails. “What are you doing to my daughter?” The white policeman leaps away from me like I am something gross. He holds his palms out toward this woman to explain. His black partner decides to step in, but Jackie intercepts him. She grabs him by his elbow and pulls him away, whispering into his ear.
“How dare you!” my mother cries at the policeman, she reels around and shakes her racket at the old lady so hard the W on its face blurs, “How dare you call the police on a 10-year-old little girl!”
“She can’t swim,” the lady says.
“She’s on a competitive swim team! I know she told you, she tells everybody and didn’t I just tell you I was watching her? How dare you call the police on my daughter, how dare you bring men with guns to terrorize a child, how dare you, you racist-ass bitch!”
I gasp at my mother saying the B word. Even the old woman seems stunned. She has no words for my mother. Only indignant huffing as she strides toward the exit, but my mother makes sure that lady walks a little faster. My mother chases the old lady out the exit and halfway down the street, waving her racket and using words.
The white policeman stands stiff in the corner, either guilty or fearful. He does nothing as my mother chases the old woman away, he doesn’t even watch. Instead he pretends that not one of us exists. He walks around the pool, inspecting it, surveys the ivy on the fence and wanders out opposite way he came.
The black policeman, however, has enjoyed himself, and asks Jackie on a date.
… is the article I scroll past on my iPhone when I overhear two people in line ahead of me arguing over the police officers responsible for Warner’s death.
“They were punished,” a redhead in yoga pants, says. “One got stripped of his badge, the other is suspended without pay. What more could you want?”
“True,” a male wearing a Black Sabbath shirt, replies. “But I was under the impression that you should go to jail for murder.”
I am 17, and in a rush to get home after basketball practice when my mother called me. She told me to buy a single bell pepper and a quart of fresh-squeezed orange juice from this little mom-and-pop grocery on Piedmont Avenue.
I’m annoyed, because I’m tired, I’m starving, and I want to be home in time to watch my favorite TV show. I got the orange juice, then took the streets home, trying to avoid any traffic. I saw the red light coming before it even turned yellow, and without even a tap on the break, I cut through the gas station for the street I need—and I got pulled over by this cop. When I rolled down my window, he grinned.
“In a hurry?” he asked.
“Yes sir, sorry sir.”
“Late for something?”
I hesitated, it’s not like I doubted he could understand the urgency of needing my anime fix. So I gave him the most normal answer I could think of. “I have a lot of homework, sir.”
He asked for my license, registration, and insurance then went back to his car to presumably run my plates. After 20 frustrating minutes, I checked my rearview mirror and I could see this guy leaning with his hands behind his head. He looked like he was taking a nap. After 30 minutes, I checked again and he hadn’t moved. It hit me then that this man had no intentions of running my plates. He was just going to sit there and sleep, torture me with patience. Maybe he wanted to see if my head would explode.
I groaned and slid down in the driver’s seat. I turned on my music, minimal volume and played Aaliyah. I figured if anyone understood me, she did. My mother started calling my cell phone, the voicemail melody jingling so often it reminded me of a scratched CD. What is so god damn important about this fucking orange juice?
Finally this guy decided that 45 minutes was more than enough to make a point. When he returned my things, he was failing at hiding his laughter. It was like this had been the most fun he’d had in awhile.
“Be a courteous driver,” he told me then waved me off. No ticket. No warning.
I drove the speed limit home.
… is the title of the article my good friend from graduate school sends me over email. I already know before I click that the “one important thing” in common will be that they’re all black. We represent 13 percent of the U.S.’s population but somehow make up 30 percent of all missing persons—and the majority of that 30 percent is black women.
One passage I read twice: “For black adults, police usually link their disappearances to criminal activity, so they aren’t valued as much. Training needs to be enhanced so police forces know how to handle these cases.”
I am 23, and I am getting pulled over on my way home from Whole Foods. The cop, a white man, immediately erupts on me when he notices my registration is expired and all I can tell him is that I just moved and haven’t gotten around to it yet. The crucifix that I placed on my rearview mirror after my father’s death catches this man’s eye. Suddenly he radios for backup. All I saw were the lights swirling and the sirens and all the white faces scowling at me, GET OUT THE CAR! GET OUT THE CAR, the clicks of guns, a barrel in my face and I break— I’m a good person! I’m a good person!
I’d never heard my voice reach such a Tweety-Bird pitch. I cannot see anything or anybody, it looked like I was swimming through the Caribbean with open eyes. I’m bathed in tears and snot. And I cannot stop screaming—I’m a good person! I’m a good person!
A black female cop has to talk me down. Whether she’s been there the entire time or they radioed for her, I have no idea. She instructs me to breathe into my Whole Foods grocery bag while she assures me that they know I am a good person, that they know that the car is not stolen or belonging to some drug dealer, and that I am not about to get shot. I want to ask her why he called for backup, but I just nod my head and for the first time, I see the neighborhood around me, I see the people who have come to my rescue, a crowd of bystanders, mostly older men, whom all hold their smartphones in the air like weapons, as if they are holding each of these cops hostage. Whatever they intended to do, would be done in front of the world.
The black female cop lets me know the original cop is coming back to give me a ticket, and that I better get my registration fixed quick. By the time the original cop returns he looks devastated, frightened by my existence. He avoids eye contact like I’m a Gorgon, but my crucifix, my crucifix of mourning; he cannot stop looking at it. He quietly hands me a ticket, tips his cap with a soft mumbled good-bye and scuttles away. The police cars turn off their lights and with slow disappointed heaves they leave me be, until there is no one left but me and the crowd who still hold their cell phones. One of them emerges, I recognize him. We work on the Hill together. Our congresswomen are in the same caucus. He watches me park my car and slip from it, onto my hands and knees. He watches me crawl home.
I was only three blocks away.
… is the title of today’s article. Taylor Schilling, the spunky blonde who plays Piper on Orange is the New Black receives an apology from the NYPD. Why? Because she lamented on a talk show that two officers scared the bejesus out of her. She was walking down the street when a cop car pulled up next to her. The windows rolled down and two female officers gushed to her how much they loved her show. But Schilling told Kelly and Michael that before those officers spoke, she was fearful. The two officers took to Twitter to apologize. Schilling’s response? “No apologies necessary! You guys are great.”
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
I am 27 and a female cop threatens to shoot me in my back because I didn’t stop when she called. I didn’t hear her because I had my earphones in. She wants to search my bag because it’s a Louis Vuitton. My parents bought it for me. Oh, ho, I bet they did.
She is promptly chased away by another lethal cell phone. One that belonged to my neighbor, who just got off the C train at the Lafayette stop, catching the showdown right outside the turn aisle.
“These fucking pigs,” she says, flipping her blonde hair. She shifts her yoga mat to the side. “And you’d think she, as a woman, as a Hispanic, would know better!”
“It’s okay,” I tell her, “I’m used to it.”
It later hits me, while I’m drinking wine, cooking curry, and dodging my frantic Pomeranian, that it’s true.
I’m used to it.
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