I grew up in a gritty suburb just on the edges of Nation’s Capital in working class Prince George’s County as the son of a decorated Washington Metropolitan narcotics police officer and now soon-to-retire Secret Service official. I had a healthy respect of police officers — mostly because of my dad’s affiliation — but that soon changed when I came of age.
Ask any Black person native to the D.C. area about Prince George’s (PG) cops, and you will see a collective tension come over their faces. The PG cops were notorious for targeting Black boys and men in my neighborhood, often beating us senseless and daring us to say something to a higher-up. It’s no wonder, then, that one of my good friends snatched a gun and shot two officers in retaliation many years ago.
I am not condoning violence against police officers — many perform their duties with dignity. However, the truth remains that many police officers nationwide abuse their power. To those officers who dare to target African Americans incorrectly, here are some things you should know the next time you consider targeting another Black man.
1) I am NOT your living target practice. Do not take aim at me when I am clearly unarmed and stationary — much like the body silhouettes you take aim at in gun ranges with your service weapon. If my hands are raised, it is NOT an invitation to shoot me. If I turn around with my hands on my head, I am NOT offering my back for you to place a bullet there. In short, do not be spineless and shoot a person in a submissive, non-threatening position.
2) A large group of Black males does not mean we are up to no good. Why is it that a gathering of three or more Black men bring about such worry in police officers? What if the men are strong supporters of the community having a conversation about improving their surroundings? Why must you assume the worst about us? If loitering is that much of a nuisance, apply that same scrutiny with large gatherings of Whites.
Unfortunately, we know that isn’t going to happen.
3) Stop applying illegal chokeholds on non-violent suspects. If you have cause to make an arrest and the subject is not exhibiting any violence toward you, you do not have the right to choke and bully the person into fear. Save your pro-wrestling dreams for your video games or roughhousing with your children. Even though the practice is supposedly banned, the cowards among you still apply this illegal and abusive tactic.
4) Everyone who is Black isn’t a suspect. If I haven’t committed a crime that I can be formally charged with, I should be free to go about my day. Why does it take four police cars, K-9 dogs, and cops surrounding my vehicle for a busted tail light? Your excessive show of force draws a clear line in the sand that you perceive me as a potential threat. This same show of force you’re applying for a traffic violation could be readily applied to the dope boys — that you categorically avoid — down the street slinging.
5) Do not single out the young. Not every Black teen, even in the roughest of neighborhoods, is out in the streets doing bad things. Unarmed Pasadena 19-year-old Kendrec McDade didn’t have to be shot seven times to be apprehended. The police had the power and the ability to question him legally as a suspect in a recent robbery and instead hastily shot the young man dead. Kendrec should be alive today, but the officers on the scene decided his fate far too soon.
I don’t deny that being a police officer is a difficult job. I used to see my father come home with the weight of the world on his shoulders. I can even remember when he came home, bleeding from a gunshot. I looked up to my dad as a hero, a savior in the streets fighting for justice.
Sadly, I’ve come to learn the other side of the coin.
Police officers in large cities and small towns have committed acts against African Americans that would put ordinary Joe Citizens like me behind bars for many years. Mr. Officer, I’ll say it again: I am NOT your living target practice. My brothers are not here to lay down when we’ve done nothing wrong. We will respect you, most certainly, but that has to go both ways.
It’s fine time that police officers stop profiling and start policing.