One of the best things about being a kid was being able to stay home from school and on one particular day, my mom granted my wish. I had my day all planned out. I would eat, watch TV, and lay around all day.
Then, I heard a knock at the door. I ran to my mom’s room to ask if I could answer the door and she said yes. I don’t remember if they said they were the police or not but I remember needing my mom to come to the door to answer it.
She cracked the door just enough to ask what was going on and within seconds police officers came charging in. There were at least 6 of them. They threw us on the couch and started searching the house.
They turned the house upside down. No explanation – Nothing, until after they were done.
Apparently there’d been a bank robbery in the area and my mom’s car fit the description. They were looking for a grey Buick (my mom had a grey Buick), and a man, a Black man with salt and pepper hair.
I remember it like it was yesterday. My mom said, “If your brother was here they would’ve shot him.”
It took a long time for me to understand what she meant. There was something I was missing – The man they were looking for was short, my brother is 6’4. My brother was also young – At the time he was around 17 so he didn’t have salt and pepper hair. For the longest, it didn’t make sense to me until it did.
As I’m writing this I’m also realizing my own flawed logic at that age. When did I start equating crime to being shot or killed regardless of the type of crime? And why did my mom think the same?
It wasn’t something I learned at home – It had been something I’d seen. On TV when people committed crimes they got shot. It was in all of the movies. But my brother? Why? He wasn’t a bank robber. He was a high schooler and he certainly didn’t have salt and pepper hair.
Although he didn’t fit the description my mother said they would shot my brother because he’s Black.
That was my “talk”. I was around 10 years old.
Black families in America routinely have to have “the talk” with their children. I’m not talking about sex. I’m talking about the, not all police officers are here to protect and serve, talk. The keep your hands on the steering wheel talk. The, yes sir and no sir, talk and the, you have to narrate your every move, talk. It’s a cruel rite of passage.
What’s incredible and equally unnerving is the story I wrote above repeated itself when I was in my late 20’s. An early morning knock at my apartment door with a covered peep hole and windows forced me to call 911 at 6am not knowing the police were the ones on the other side.
They were looking for a woman, a black woman who didn’t look like me at all. It was like a horrible flashback. They too came in and searched my apt. While the officers were kind that day I cried. I cried a snotty messy cry.
I didn’t cry when the police showed up at my house when I was 10 years old, but there I was, about 15 or so years later standing there in my robe wondering what happened, again.
It’s one of those memories you tuck away because it’s too painful to recall but it’s also one that rises to the surface in times like this.
For some of us the stories are worse. But many of us remember how old we were and where we were when we realized the police were a threat to our safety and not the source of it. But I’m one of the lucky ones. My brother wasn’t home and no one was physically hurt. But the incident left an imprint on my mind that my 20+ and now 30+ year old self has been forced to revisit.
Thank God my brother wasn’t home that day. Thank God.