Due to the nature of this blog post, reader discretion is advised!
(Strong Language and Racial Content! Some names of people and places have been changed to protect individual identity.)
When I was 28 years old, a friend and I were out on a date celebrating his new sports car he purchased. At that time, he was working three jobs just so he could save up the money to get his dream car. You couldn’t tell us nothing. We were living the life! ahahahaaa
He took me way outside of Pittsburgh to a suburb I hadn’t been to, but had heard many negative things about this area’s police force being rather racist. I was a little apprehensive about being brought there, but I was with my friend and I felt safe. This area, needless to say, was basically white, but they had some decent night clubs and many black people caught the vibe and indulged. Our money spent anywhere and the nightclub owners loved that. However, we didn’t go to any of the nice clubs that night. We ended up at this hole-in-the-wall bar, but it was hood ready where “everyone knew your name!” The patrons were mostly black, but there were several whites inside too. It was all good. The drinks were flowing and his boys came outside to see his new ride and most were oohing and aahing. My friend had made it. He worked hard to buy this car.
After all the drinks and celebrating, we ordered food and sat and nursed our drinks slowly. The music was pumping and much dancing and heads bobbing to the rhythm of the night. It was fast approaching the “you-ain’t-got-to-go-home, but-you-got-to-get-the-hell-up-outta-here” moment—2a.m. It’s cool, we were ready to head back home. Before we left our bar stools, someone got on the mike and announced there were random police check points tonight and for everyone to be careful and mindful of the po-po! My friend, whom we’ll call “Andre,” exchanged looks with me and signaled he was ready to go.
Of course, we’re driving along laughing about the nice evening we had, and sure enough we get about a few miles down the road and wouldn’t you know it, the police were sitting in wait. Oooh joy! I could feel my breathing accelerate and my nerves were definitely on edge. Before we were asked to come to a complete stop, I said to Andre, “Whatever you do, you answer the police with yes sir, no sir, whatever the hell they want to hear sir, and we should be fine.” He looked at me with this look like “shit on that!?” I remained firm. “I’m dead serious, do not provoke these police officers into something that will get us killed.” He shook his head as if he was in agreement.
So, the police officers stop us and ask Andre where we were coming from. While he’s speaking with the officer on his driver’s side, his partner on the passenger side, had a huge flashlight and shined it directly in my face. Even though I was ready to do number one and two in Andre’s new ride, I tried to remain calm. Something about this “routine stop” didn’t feel so routine to me. The officer asked me to let the window down. I complied. He keeps shining the flashlight in my face. I stared ahead and wouldn’t look in his direction. I’m sure he could feel my fear radiating off of me. I was two seconds from throwing up the hot wings I had doused along with my Miller’s beer.
He says, “So, where you comin’ from young lady?” I answered, “Marlene’s—a bar a few miles back.” He leaned closer to the car and I could feel the heat off of him. “Oh yeah, I know Marlene’s – that’s where all the niggers hang.” My blood was boiling, but I remained still and I would not give him eye contact. Hmmph, had I done that, I would have been blind by this point.
I was so terrified of this officer that it hadn't occurred to me that Andre had left the car. When the hell did he get out of the car? So I look to see where he was and the police had him up against the car “assuming the position.” I assumed the officer harassing me didn’t want me paying attention to what was happening to my friend, so he continued to engage me in more vulgar conversation.
He takes his flashlight and shines it starting from the top of my head and moved it slowly over my breasts, down to my feet. I thought the bile rising in the back of my throat was going to spew all over him.
“You know, you’re mighty young to be out this late. How old are you?”
“Twenty-eight.” He shines his light in my face again. “Hmm, you sure about that? You seem a little young to me. Where did your nigger friend pick you up at? What corner do you hang on?”
OMG, I was livid and I wanted to take Andre’s keys from the ignition and stab this officer in the balls with them, but I knew that would prove fatal.
“I’m not a hooker, sir—Andre is my friend and we came out celebrating” still shining his light in my face, “Oh you one of those niggers who got a little education,” he mentioned chuckling. I could see the side of his face in the mirror and he turns and spits on the ground. I look to see what is going on with Andre, and he and the officer are still talking.
“How a nigger like you get a car like this?” I couldn’t make out everything Andre said, but I heard him say, “I work three jobs and saved up money to buy this.” Officer Shine-Your-Light on my side starts laughing and speaking to no one in particular.
“Where a nigger get a ride like that? I don’t make that much on a cop’s salary and ain’t no way working three jobs a nigger gonna buy a car this nice. Why don’t you save us both the trouble and just admit you’re selling drugs?”
I could see Andre’s chest rise and fall and he was really getting angry. He never sold drugs a day in his life and came from a good family and was educated as well. He truly saved up for his ride the legit way, but of course, these two racist officers didn’t believe it.
“Sir, I work three jobs. I can show you my work badges if you don’t believe me?” Andre was going to reach for the door to open it, and I kept shaking my head no don’t do that. The officer grabbed him real swift like and banged him against the car. “Sorry, sir, I was just trying to show you. . .” he cut him off.
“Don’t make sudden moves, boy, if you plan on making it home tonight with your ho.” By this point, I began to silently cry. I couldn’t do anything else and that’s the only thing I had control over. Officer Shine-Your-Light watched me and said nothing. Then he took his flashlight and shined it again over my body, resting the light on my breasts. “You’re a good looking nigger. You one of ‘dem high yellow ones. Got some white mixed in you?”
I wanted to die. It seemed to me that we had been at this checkpoint way past the point we should have, but I believe the whole ordeal lasted seven to ten minutes. All I could do was think of my mother and my grandparents. Officer Shine-Your-Light made me feel so dirty and naked, even though I was fully clothed in a very nice dress and pumps. I wanted to pull my V-neck dress tighter so he would stop gawking at my breasts, but I was too terrified to move for fear he’d think I was trying to pull a fast one and yank my ass out of the car. One thing I knew for sure is that it was bad enough Andre was outside the car, but I did NOT want to be pulled from that car. I was most likely going to be raped, had I been made to leave the car. Officer Shine-Your-Light pretty much convinced me of that much. I kept praying.
“No sir, both of my parents are black.”
“Is that right? With black people you can come in any shade, is that right?”
“Yes sir, I suppose so.”
“You’re really cute. You sure you’re 28-years old? You wouldn’t be pullin' my leg, now would ya? How much did and your nigger boyfriend have to drink tonight,” pointing his flashlight over to where Andre was standing.
He was firing questions off so fast, I was having a hard time processing them to answer. And no matter how many times he called my friend nigger, I always referred to him as Andre to humanize him regardless as to this officer's ignorance.
“No, sir. I’m 28 years old. Andre had a couple of beers, as did I. He’s 30 years old.” I didn’t even know if he asked me Andre’s age or not? I was confused and terrified at the same time.
“You say you’re not a hooker, eh?”
“No sir, I’m not. I work for a law firm in Downtown Pittsburgh.”
“Oh yeah! A law firm got a nigger workin’ for ‘em? What do you do?”
“I’m a legal assistant.”
“Is that right?”
By this time, he leans in the window and his face is almost touching mine. I have never prayed as hard as I prayed that night that God would keep me and Andre safe. We weren’t bothering anyone, but apparently, these two yahoos were getting off at our expense.
“You are really good looking. Anyone ever tell you that?”
I looked to my left to see what was going on with Andre, and finally the jackass officer detaining him let him get back in the car. I was thankful to be near someone I trusted, even though we clearly were not out of the woods yet.
Officer Shine-Your-Light takes his light and flashes it in Andre’s face. “Damn you’re black. Gat damn, where you from Africa?”
I saw Andre’s jaw clench, and I lightly touched his hand to keep him calm. This nightmare was almost over.
“No sir, born and raised right here in the City of Pittsburgh.” He puts his flashlight down and walks around the hood of the car to meet with his partner, Officer Jackass.
Officer Shine-Your-Light says, “Welp, I guess everything checks out with these two. Let ‘em go.” I was so happy to hear those words I thought I would scream pure joy. Before Andre could get the car in drive, Officer Jackass placed his hand on the side door. “I suggest you and your lady friend don’t come ‘round these here parts anymore, boy, you got that?” He winked at Andre and made some clicking sound with his tongue.
Andre inhaled hard and exhaled slowly. “Yes sir, understood. You have a nice night.” And we pulled off. Needless to say, neither one of us said a word on the ride back to the city. I was in shock, as was he. I know he felt less than a man because he let these white officers talk to us any ole kind of way, but we survived.
Even though my friend and I were doing absolutely nothing wrong, these two ignorant ass racist cops pulled us over and harassed us, called us names, and belittled us, but WE lived through the ordeal. When I told my girlfriend about what had happened, the first words out of her mouth were, “Ain’t no way in hell those motherfuckers would have done that to me!” And I kept recounting what those officers did and I responded, “And you’d be raped and left for dead in some ditch out in no man’s land!”
The reason I told my story in great detail is because I’m so sick and tired of seeing my people getting killed by some unlawful trigger-happy police officer. But, with that being said, my story also points out that WE bear some of that responsibility as well. Yes, Andre and I were out drinking in a white suburb. We weren’t breaking any laws, other than the fact we were two young African-American people having a good time among friends. Do you realize how horribly wrong this could have gone had I not told Andre how to handle that situation? There wasn't any way I wanted this to be what my mother and family would have to live with for the rest of their lives. That's all I kept thinking about in between praying to Jesus to keep us safe.
I knew no sooner had the police stopped us, there was going to be a problem. For one, Andre's new shiny expensive sports car, and two, we were black. I could just feel it. I had heard about those officers from many black friends who had come out that way, and here I was in the midst of all that shit. I’m not saying that many times my people aren’t within their legal rights, they most certainly are, but my point is, why provoke someone with a license to kill? They have a gun, do you? And even if you are carrying, do you really think the outcome is going to be good for you? My people, you’ve got to start thinking smart and stop letting your emotions get you hurt, time in jail or worse, dead.
As much as those officers made me feel like shit and God knows I wanted to cuss them out and tell them to go to hell, but once again, we were out-gunned. So I tell the cop where to go and how to get there, and I wouldn’t be writing this horrible tale for you to read. If you want to say we were acting cowardly and we should have stood up for ourselves, as far as I’m concerned, that’s exactly what we did. That was standing up for ourselves! We’re alive today! Neither of us went to jail that night. Neither of us were harmed physically, although Officer Jackass hurt Andre’s arms when he slammed him on the side of the car. But outside of that, we walked away unharmed. Ooooh there were some mental scars to contend with and I was so terrified after that ordeal, when Andre reached my house, we sat there in silence. I couldn’t get my legs to stop shaking. I kept thinking how close to death we were. We finally looked at one another and our silence spoke a language that didn't require sound that night. What was there to say? I saw the hurt and pain in his eyes, as I’m positive he saw the mirror image in mine. I could feel his shame, as much as I felt it. We were robbed of our dignity that night and embarrassed by the whole ordeal.
Andre and I never talked about that night--ever! We just went on with life as if that never happened. It was too painful to want to relive. It was just horrible. In fact, it wasn’t until a few years ago I actually told my mom what happened that night. I didn’t tell her all the gory details, but she could fill in the blanks and understood where I was coming from.
And the Moral to the Story Is: Even when you're faced with adversity and it seems like there's nothing you can do, keeping a level head can save your life.
And the Moral to the Story Is: Even when you're faced with adversity and it seems like there's nothing you can do, keeping a level head can save your life.
I couldn’t believe this happened to me. To this day, I still don’t want to believe this actually happened to me, but it did. I have never been addressed that way by anyone. Those two officers made me feel cheap, and God knows my mother didn’t raise a ratchet ghetto chick. I damn sure am not a prostitute, but it’s amazing how someone’s words can make you feel exactly like their meaning. I just felt plain ole nasty inside. Hell, I felt raped just from the officer's tone and innuendos. That gat damn flashlight accosted me in more ways than one, and that was Officer Shine-Your-Light’s intent. I’m thankful my education and fast thinking kept me and Andre alive. Had he popped off like I know he wanted to, again, I wouldn’t be the one writing this story. I’d be my family’s memory right now.
When I see these horrific videos of black people being hunted and taunted, it makes my skin crawl. I get so upset because I know how it feels. The first thing you want to do is hurt those officers, but much too often, my people lose sight of what is really going on. I don’t give a damn if you are in the right, when you are stopped by a police officer, you want that encounter to be quick, easy and painless. Even when you know they are being a prick, just take their shit, and keep it moving! Many of my people are dead today because they allowed their raw emotions to take over the situation, which is why they are no longer here. If you are stopped and an officer asks you to get out of the car, you must get out of the car, just like my friend Andre did. You comply respectfully and carefully, regardless of the officer's behavior. I keep hearing people saying it's their right to stay in the car. Aaah, that's incorrect. When an officer tells you to exit the vehicle, YOU must do it and very carefully, I might add. You make any sudden moves, and that could potentially be the end of you. After all, that officer doesn't know what he/she is going to encounter when approaching you, no more than you do. So YOU need to be mindful of that!
So go ahead and call me a punk, wuss or whatever you want to think of me. I’m here damn it, and that’s all that matters at the end of the day! The next time you have an encounter with law enforcement, YOU might want to remember this is a person that has a weapon and can use it and get away with killing you. If you don’t believe me, obviously you aren't up on current events as of late? These stories come much like a brand new pair of Air Jordans awaiting for the mad rush at a mall.
And if I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t change one thing!
I hope my story gives you some food for thought when dealing with the police. I didn’t tell my story to make you feel bad, but to help educate and hopefully help you gain some smarts. And even when you do the right things, it doesn’t necessarily mean the outcome is going to be in your favor, but at least start off by NOT provoking an officer with flippant answers and talking shit. You are guaranteeing yourself not to have a good day.
And then answer this: Is popping off at the mouth worth your life? I can’t answer that for you! Only you can.
Kimberly Ranee Hicks, Author/Poet/Reviewer