Peart initially explains that even though his mother gave him an ominous warning about the police at the precocious age of 9 — “She cautioned me to carry ID and never run away from the police or I could be shot” — he still thought police officers were “cool.” Nearly 10 years later, Peart’s perception of New York’s finest was irrevocably changed after his 18th birthday celebration, when he was brutally harassed:
… Out of nowhere, squad cars surrounded us. A policeman yelled from the window, ‘Get on the ground!’ I was stunned. And I was scared. Then I was on the ground — with a gun pointed at me. I couldn’t see what was happening, but I could feel a policeman’s hand reach in to my pocket and remove my wallet. Apparently he looked through and found the ID I kept there. ‘Happy Birthday,’ he said sarcastically.
Unfortunately for Peart — and many other blacks and Latinos — this would be the beginning of an increasingly abusive affair with the police. Peart, for his part, would be harassed at least three more times between his birthday-turned-target practice in 2006 and his most recent run-in in 2010. An officer took Peart’s keys and attempted to enter his apartment without his permission, while yet another officer forced him into a squad car, handcuffed. Naturally, Peart has become increasingly paranoid about the police:
These experiences changed the way I felt about the police. After the third incident I worried when police cars drove by; I was afraid I would be stopped and searched or that something worse would happen. I dress better if I go downtown. I don’t hang out with friends outside my neighborhood in Harlem as much as I used to. Essentially, I incorporated into my daily life the sense that I might find myself up against a wall or on the ground with an officer’s gun at my head. For a black man in his 20s like me, it’s just a fact of life in New York.
Thankfully, Peart isn’t taking this blatant discrimination and abuse lying down. He is a member of Harlem’s Brotherhood/Sister Sol, which works to empower youths about their rights while teaching them mechanisms to stay alive, and is a witness in the Center for Constitutional Rights lawsuit, which seeks to bring racist cops to task for racial profiling.
While it is criminal that a young black college student is STILL having to ask this question in 2011, it is yet another testament that the black and brown people of this nation are still regarded as second-class citizens.