Why I can’t breathe

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Inhale,

Quite honestly, I’m genuinely tired of the bullshit!  I’m an exhausted black man. I’m not any different.  I’m not angry.

In order for you to understand why I can’t breathe you will have to take a trip with me and live my life for just a brief moment.  I’ll help you with this journey by recounting events that led me to this current state of oxygen deprivation.

***

Finally! there’s nothing like hearing the last bell ring for the day in high school.  It was like sweet music to my ears.  It brought a smile to every pimple ridden student’s face regardless of culture, color of skin or socio-economic status, yet unknown to me, this day would leave an indelible scar on my life.  I learned more about life this day than in the prior 10 years of attending school within the Los Angeles Unified School District.

As I left campus to hitch a ride with my homies, I was confronted by a grown man. I purposely used the word confront.  Confront /kənˈfrənt: meet (someone) face to face with hostile or argumentative intent.   The man was a white LAPD cop.  My friends and I were sitting in the car waiting on one more to drive home.  The car was filled with a virtual melting pot of teenagers with me being the sole black student.  To put things in perspective, I attended a high school at the time that was roughly 80% white,  10% latino, 5% black and 5% “other”. The cop walked up to the car and asked me who I was and what I was doing.  I told him my name and explained that I was getting a ride to work. At the time I worked part-time bagging groceries like any other high school kid with a plan. He abruptly told me to get out of the car.  He checked my high school ID and drivers license.  He then proceeded to tell me I “fit” the description of someone who assaulted and robbed another student in the high school bathroom and that he would have to detain me.  He asked me for my “nickname”.  I told him my  family calls me “Tito”.  He asked me if I went by  any other nicknames and I replied, “no”.  Apparently the cop knew the nickname of the black boy they were looking for.  He told me to place my hands on the side of his vehicle and he proceeded to “pat me down”.  Keep in mind school was just over and this incident occurred right outside of  one of the main exit gates.  There were several students walking by, looking and shaking their heads my way.  I was completely embarrassed as the cop continued to search my pockets, spread my legs and do his thing.  He found nothing.  He told my friends they can leave but I would have to stay.  He then handcuffed me and sat me in the back of the cop car.  Yes, I was effing handcuffed!  I literally sat in the back of the cop car for what seemed like hours as my fellow students walked by and peered in at me in disbelief. I felt like a caged animal on display.  He continued to question me. I told him I never had a real fight, robbed or assaulted anyone in my life.  I told him my dad was a pastor.  I told him I was an honor student.  I pulled out all stops to get out of that car because not only was I innocent but the embarrassment was overwhelming…and it continued.  He told me he was taking me to the Foothill Division to ID me.  As a matter of historical content this is the same division that was involved in the Rodney King incident years later.  I knew about the division because prior to this it had a negative reputation among us black boys.

Never once did a tear drip from my eyes, never once did I attempt to incite the cops.  It was as if, to me, this was expected and long overdue because  eventually it happened to all black boys.  After arriving at the Foothill,  I sat in the holding cell as the cops talked among themselves.  Real criminals were in the precinct.  They were around me.  I was confused.

Finally the “arresting” cop came in and took me to his boss.  The boss looked at me, he sized me up, grabbed me by the chin, turned my face and then turned to the arresting cop.  He yelled at him and said verbatim, ” this boy has no f*cking facial hair, a baby face and has never shaven a day in his life…the witnesses claimed the criminal had a f*cking beard”.  He proceeded to tell the arresting cop to take me home or wherever I needed to go ASAP!  That was THE single most awkward ride I ever received to work.

Inhale,

Six years later while a college student, I picked up my date and headed  to Beverly Hills for a night of fine-dining. I drove a gold sports car.  I clearly remember being dressed in a black suit, tie and  Ferragamo shoes. I always had a penchant for style. My girlfriend was elegantly dressed in a black evening gown.  I made a right turn on a side street to make a legal 3-point turn and arrive at our destination in the Hills.  Before I could complete the turn I was blinded by the oft familiar LAPD blue and red lights glaring both behind and in front me. I was hemmed in by two LAPD cop cars.  My girlfriend was in shock!  All 4 cops approached  my Z hands on holster.  The cop on the passenger side asked my girlfriend if she was okay.  I was enraged, but she remained calm and told me to relax and told the cops she was fine.  She was not black. The cop on my side asked me for my registration and this was where I learned a vital life lesson.  As I reached toward the glove compartment  I heard the sound of four guns being released from their holsters. I halted. I was staring down the barrel of four cocked 9mm guns! My girlfriend lost it emotionally.

They questioned my destination and eventually told me I “fit” the description of a burglary suspect in the area.  I wasn’t the same black boy of five years prior.  I was annoyed.  The guns did not phase me.  I questioned the cops as to how I could again “fit” the description of a burglary suspect while driving a sports car dressed in a suit?  With a date? What criminal does that? What was stolen and how could it fit in my 2-seater?  All this happened while still at gun point.  I questioned them in a non-confrontational manner. They interpreted my questioning as an encounter. They told me and my girlfriend to get out of the car.  They made us sit on the curb while they proceeded to search the trunk of my car, back seat,  between the seats, glove compartment…every nook and cranny.  The contents of the trunk and glove compartments were pitched to the ground as they continued their search. When they came to the conclusion there was nothing to be found,  I asked them to return my personal items back to where they were.  They scoffed at me.  The lead cop told me to do it myself.  My date and I just continued to sit on the curb as they drove off. I already had a negative feeling towards cops, but from that day on I held a disdain for any and all badges.

Inhale,

So I understand today’s anger, protests and confusion.  I’ve matured exponentially.  I realize all cops are not the same. Most importantly, humans are different and I refuse to place them in a box because of the color of their skin, badge or economic status.

I want you to understand black boys are not all the same too. They are humans just like you.

I realize the vast  importance to “protect and serve”.  I must remind you public trust is also part of your Oath of Honor.

I want my black boys to think twice before puffing out your chest. You ignite when there should be no flame. It goes both ways.

The life lesson I learned was to deliberately inform a cop exactly where my registration is located and tell them I am going to reach. for. it. now.

I talk to them as if they are a child because I don’t know the mind-set of this human with a gun.

I realize this first-world country we share is laden with ignorance. I want my black boys to seek knowledge.

I’ve been told I’m different by my “peers” as a compliment?  I want you to understand you are uninformed for saying it.

Because you don’t know where I came from.  Mr. Obama and I are not the only ones. Mr. Obama and I are not the only ones…

I understand the need for law and structure.

We do not all “fit” the description.  We are not clones. We do not all look alike!

Stop me, but don’t kill me. Stop me, but don’t kill me. Maybe if I live I will mature and understand.

Just maybe you will change and then live.

I shed a slight tear thinking of the night in Beverly Hills… if I made a sudden move would I be here writing this post?

This unhealthy relationship boils down to lack of trust. This unhealthy relationship boils down to lack of trust.

My aspiration is to exhale one day and simply. just. breathe…

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