Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Quick Story

Like a lot of you, I've been glued to social media watching the events transpire in Ferguson and it reminds me of something that happened 25 years ago.

I was 19 years old and it was the start of the sophomore year at Loyola.  There was a liquor store on Granville that would accept my incredibly lame fake ID.  It was nighttime, maybe 10:00 or so, and a girlfriend and I walked to the liquor store to buy a 12 pack of beer.  On the way out, a black guy in his 20s stopped me and asked me to help him do the clasp on his necklace.  I was a little squiffy, and happy to be grown up and living in my own apartment, and exactly in the mood to spread the good will.   I handed the 12 pack to my friend and did the clasp on his necklace.  While I was doing it he joked with me and his friend about how mad his girlfriend would be if he weren't wearing the necklace.  Apparently, if he weren't wearing it, his girlfriend would think he was cheating.  I struggled a bit with the clasp and wondered if his girlfriend were paranoid or if she just knew him really well.  It could have gone either way, really.

I got the clasp done.  He said "thanks."  And we parted ways.

After just a few steps, I heard a voice yelling, "Hey, Leroy!"  I ignored it since my name's not Leroy.  Another, "Hey, Leroy!  Stop!"  Then I heard the guy who I'd just helped with the clasp say, "My name's not Leroy."

When I looked around the guy was being cuffed on the hood of the police car.

Now, it could have been that the guy was guilty of something and the cop knew.  But, come on.  That guy was guilty of talking to a 19 year old white girl while being black.

I'm not proud of myself for walking away.  I should have had the guts to say something.  But I was 19 and I was, in fact, breaking the law with my illegally purchased 12 pack.  And I'm kind of a coward anyway.

This happened 25 years ago.  There are some kinds of racism that we don't see anymore.  I think of Forrest Whittaker's character in Fast Times or, I don't know, separate water fountains.  But even though we put a black guy in the white house,  this kind of random arrest is likely so common as to be banal for your average black male youth.

You're living in a state of evilly willful ignorance if you don't accept that "serve and protect" might feel a little ironic to a chunk of America. And I don't even get how so many white Americans seem bound and determined to blame black people for their own victimization.

I know that there are a lot of good cops out there; a lot of good people who do serve and protect. And I know that this is a hard job.  But the assumption of black male criminality runs rampant throughout American society and when it comes in tandem with the kind of authority the police have it becomes an excellent tool to delegitimize the citizenship of a chunk of Americans.  

I read this story about Ezell Ford, an unarmed 25 year old killed by the police Monday:

It was unknown if the "suspect" had any gang affiliations, police said in the news report.

We don't know that he had gang affiliations but he *could* have! It's important that we note that, right?

I guess that guy who was worried about his jealous girlfriend 25 years ago should feel lucky he only got arrested.