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Whoop Whoop! That’s the Sound of the Police!

Photo: Rick Reinhard, 1990

Photo: Rick Reinhard, 1990

I’m not in shock of what is going on in the communities across America. Although none of my friends have ever been killed by the police, surely there were a few that have been shot at, and one or two shot by the police. But overall, it seemed as though the police would antagonize you so they could shoot you or arrest you. Most of us went through life feeling like the police was just another gang in the neighborhood you had to deal with. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are good police, but I just never met them or had no reason to know them, because all my interactions with them were not good ones. I never heard my parents say anything bad about them but my experience wasn’t good.

I know first hand that policing in the white community is different than the black community. I can only talk from experiences that I’ve encountered. These are not stories from some book or some story that someone told me about this and that; this is what I’ve witnessed and/or experienced firsthand. Before I share my experiences let me remind the reader that I grew up in Brooklyn, not some deep southern town in Alabama or South Carolina where racism is dominant in its culture and roots. So my stories shouldn’t be as extreme as one in the south. Nope, not true. When you put a badge on a racist anywhere it’s the same gumbo for disaster. Are all police bad? No. But surely it’s taking technology to catch up to what people of color have been saying and have experienced at the hands of police.

In the late ’70s I was taking the bus from our neighborhoods in Flatbush, Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy to Shellbank Junior High School in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Across the street from Shellbank was Sheepshead Bay High School. We had to stick together and racial tension would usually be away from the teachers, but after school the older white kids would hang out outside the school and were usually the troublemakers. There would be extra public busses to take us back to our neighborhoods at 3pm. If you missed the bus there was always jokes, among us, that we had to start jogging out of the neighborhood.

Well, one day, a few other kids and I missed the bus. We waited for the next round of busses to come, but it took a while. I saw the same older white males forming and coming our way with bats and sticks in their hand. They asked one of the girls (who was older) why were we still in their neighborhood. I was scared, I was wondering why would my mother put me in this kind of danger sending me to this school and why these people didn’t like us. Well, one thing led to another and they started beating the girl and kicking her and two came after me and started hitting me and swinging the bats and we all started running for our life.

Couple of blocks later of being chased and being called nigger, I finally saw my saviors, THE POLICE. Oh God, thank you Jah for helping me in this bad situation. The police didn’t even get out their car, they screamed out the car at the 6 white teenagers by name and told them to go home and stop playing around. PLAYING? Huh? These people was about to kill us for missing a bus out of their neighborhood. Not to mention we were assaulted. Hey, what happen to protect and serve? They never asked us if we were ok or if we wanted to press charges; they admonished us that we should catch the next bus out of the neighborhood. I didn’t think about it then, but later this would be a common event that occurred and when I traded stories with guys my age that went to the school. We all went in fear and understood that no one would protect us and we sure weren’t depending on the police to do it.

It would take years later for me to understand and see that the police was just another element in my neighborhood that I had to deal with, just like any local thug or brute or gang member. There were officers that we would call Starsky and Hutch and other TV names that they would take on. I would be searched randomly the older I got going or coming from school so you just knew this was something the police did. But one day as an adult I picked up a friend of mine and he had a bag with him. I was driving a nice car (circa 1988) and I knew the cops would flag us when they saw me. I immediately asked my friend if he had anything illegal on him and he said he had a firearm in a box that he just bought. I asked him was it loaded and he told me no. I knew that a gun without bullets is a misdemeanor, not a felony. They stopped us as expected, searched the car and found the firearm. I wasn’t worried but then I saw the police officer loading the clips with bullets, that was a game changer. I stood there handcuffed with my mouth opened, like what the heck are you doing. My mind said it but my mouth couldn’t scream. We were on a dark side block and I knew if this crew of cops would load up a gun they would kill us right where we stood, things like that wasn’t uncommon in those days. When they put me in the back seat the cop started beating me with his warlike talkie radio. Cursing me, even spitting on me and when I got to the police station with my face bruised I told the booking captain that I was assaulted and he laughed me into a cell. So here I am in Brooklyn Supreme Court fighting a felony gun charge, out on bail, paying for lawyers, for what, because of some friendly officers. Only if they had I phones then.

I can’t even go into how many times I’ve been assaulted, abused or harassed by police officers that crossed the line. I could have been a casualty easily, but I knew that these guys had a license to kill me and I understood that. I would always remember being that kid running for my life and the police calling those giant white guys by their first names and telling them to go home. Now that was neighborhood policing for my white counterpart, in contrast for me, neighborhood policing was harassment, assault and if I flinched a morgue. Maybe now we can have some justice. Killing police isn’t the way, in fact it gives them justification to do what they been doing. But what happen to the black men should not be swept under the rug because of what happen in Dallas.

– JR

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