I’ve been a suspect my whole life. As a black man you learn very early in life that you’re guilty by association no matter how well behaved or well dressed you might be. I can recall nearly being shot by a police officer in downtown Pasadena, CA a few years ago, simply because I stepped off the curb to enter a car that was waiting for me on the street. My buddy and I were confused about why we were being pulled over, when there were other cars clearly waiting in front of the restaurant as well.
We were both incensed about the police officer’s explanation and felt that we were simply being racially profiled because we were in a predominately white part of town. My friend Les Monroe who was driving was so incensed that he nearly floored his SUV and fled the scene, but I quickly urged him to stop when I saw the police officer reaching for his gun.
When we exited the car, I approached the officer and began to chastise him for harassing us and endangering our lives because of some minor violation that we unknowingly committed. As I continued to chastise the officer, a small crowd began to gather at the site of a black man publicly confronting a police officer. Most people that walked by probably assumed that we deserved to be pulled over because we were black and had most likely committed some type of crime or offense.
I urged the officer to summon his Captain immediately so that I could file a complaint for racial discrimination and harassment. Once the Captain arrived the situation began to dissipate, I discovered that the officer was a rookie and was probably seeking to impress his partner by pulling over a couple of black guys. We were eventually issued tickets for a curb violation, which was mysteriously tossed out prior to our court date.
This story is not uncommon for most men of color. I don’t know any African-American who doesn’t have a racial profiling story and that’s what makes Trayvon Martin’s tragedy so emotional for black people. We’ve seen this movie before and the ending is always the same. Young black male, wearing a hoodie (in the rain), walking back to his parents home to watch the NBA All Star game is somehow deemed suspicious by a wannabe cop who confronts him and eventually shoots him at point blank range.
Trayvon’s tragic death has raised awareness about racial profiling, but I feel that it’s only temporary because we’re all guilty of profiling. Whenever I’m in an unfamiliar neighborhood or I see people, who appear to be “shady”, I’m going to be a lot more alert and aware of my surroundings… it’s called having “street smarts.” However, Trayvon was simply minding his own business and was not posing a threat to his killer George Zimmerman. Trayvon was not trespassing on his property or making physical threats towards him, which means that Zimmerman stalked him, confronted him and killed him.
I don’t believe that racial profiling will be eliminated because I can’t stop “being black” nor can I be held accountable for the actions of people who may look like me. I just pray that Trayvon’s family will see justice and that an eventual arrest and conviction will give them some solace in this tragedy.