Monday, August 25, 2014

I Will Never be Murdered Like Michael Brown

I will never be murdered by a cop the way Michael Brown was.  That is, unless I attempt suicide by cop, and even then this is not guaranteed.  I can say this confidently based on my own personal experiences, and those of many of my friends, as white people interacting with the police.

Between the ages of eleven and nineteen I had multiple run-ins with the cops for minor offenses. Fortunately, I do not have a criminal record.  I was never convicted of any major or minor crimes.  I was never even charged with any misdemeanors or violations.   

My history with the police began when my friends and I took up skateboarding.  I was a white kid from a working class family living in a working class town in upstate New York.  All of my friends were white and came from a similar background.  Some of my friends were a little more poor than me, others a little more well off, and a few very well off.  We were all white (well, the friends I got into trouble with were all white).

Those early episodes with the police revolved around our skateboarding.  Like many towns across America we did not have a skate park.  In fact, we had nowhere to skate.  So what did we do?  We skated in parking lots, abandoned properties, and on the streets and sidewalks.  We were not allowed to skate in any of those places.  We would find a good curb in a parking lot, spend a few minutes trying to grind it, and then a business owner or resident would call the police.  The cops would show up promptly and kick us out.  For the most part the police were intimidating, but that's because they were bigger than us and had guns.  They usually treated us pretty well.  Sometimes they were a bit gruff, but rarely mean and never abusive.  They would just tell us to leave the property and we'd be on our way.  Sometimes they would even bullshit with us for a few minutes.  One time a cop even tried to ride my skateboard (after asking my permission, of course).  Nonetheless, we fancied ourselves rebels and would give them the finger and call them pigs behind their backs.  The cops took that in stride and pretended not to notice.  This continued throughout my six year skating career.

As I got older I would get into slightly more trouble.  I started drinking and smoking pot in my early teens.  My friends and I would have wild house parties involving underage drinking, drug use, and occasional vandalism.  Those parties were often broken up by the cops.  Nonetheless, none of us were ever arrested or charged with anything, unless someone drove away drunk or did something particularly egregious, such as verbally or physically attacking the officer, being caught with drugs, or fighting.  Often times the parties weren't even broken up, we would just be asked to quiet down.  This was largely due to one individual in our crowd that actually enjoyed talking to cops.  He would often spend a few minutes chatting it up with the police that came to bust up the party, and then he'd come back to the party and announce that we could all stay as long as we kept the noise down and didn't try to drive.

When I was seventeen I was busted for possession of a small amount of marijuana.  This time I was actually handcuffed and detained in my local police station for about an hour while the arresting officer completed the paperwork.  I asked him while he was cuffing me if he thought someone like me (ie: innocent looking white kid) was going to get high then go out and rape and pillage.  He told me no, he didn't think that, that he was just doing his job.  He went on to add that he wished that people would just smoke pot in their homes so he didn't have to waste his time with petty offenders like me.  He gave me no grief for asking about this and treated me as an equal during our entire interaction (well, as equal as possible given that I was being detained by an agent of the state).  I had to go to court for this offense.  The real kicker in all of this is that my court date was the same date that I had to be in traffic court for a speeding ticket (unrelated to the possession offense).  I had to attend the same court for both offenses.  I first stood for the traffic ticket.  Since my father knew a state trooper my ticket was knocked down to a faulty tail light and I was ordered to pay a small fine with no points on my license.  I walked out to the back of the courthouse, paid my fine at the window, and then walked back into the courtroom to await my second hearing.  The judge seeing me walk back in looked up and shook his head.  When I stood for the possession charge I was given an ACD.  ACD stands for Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal.  When one gets an ACD the understanding is that as long as that individual does not get into any trouble over the following six months their case will be dismissed.  It is not a conviction or a form of probation.  It is a delayed dismissal. In other words, I got away with it.

My last run in with the police occurred on Halloween when I was nineteen.  I was in college and was headed to a party with a group of friends.  It was a pastime at my school for students to break the wooden parking gates at the entrances to the various campus parking lots.  On this particular Halloween I decided to get in on that tradition and I promptly ran my body through a wooden parking gate breaking it off.  It was good, old fashioned vandalism.  Unfortunately, since this happened so regularly, and since it was Halloween, the local police department had officers staking out the parking lots on campus just in case some jack ass like myself decided to take part in our college pastime.  I broke the gate, and before I knew it a cop was running up behind me.  I ran as fast as I could.  There were other officers positioned ahead of me, so I stopped running after only a hundred feet or so.  The cop pursuing me tripped and sprained his ankle.  I was detained by the police for the second time in my life.  And again, I was only detained for as long as it took for the arresting officer to complete the paperwork (still made it to the party, only an hour late).  I apologized to the officer for causing him to injure himself.  He told me it was all right.  He said he was mad at me and didn't like me very much at that point, but that he'd heal and get over it.  I think it is relevant to mention here that the arresting and injured officer was African American.  Think about that for a moment.  I resisted arrest by running, and the arresting officer was injured in pursuit.  I was only charged with vandalism.  How might that have played out if I were African American and the officer was white?

I attended court for the vandalism charge, and again I was given an ACD and paid no fine.  This was my third ACD.  The first was for the possession charge, and the second I received for getting too many speeding tickets.  That second ACD had expired less than a month before I received the third.

Students across all races and socioeconomic strata are guilty of offenses similar to the ones I committed as a teenager.  Yet, students of color are disproportionately disciplined by school systems and the police for these types of offenses.  I have seen this first hand having worked both in poor, predominantly black schools, and wealthy, predominantly white schools.  In the wealthy, predominantly white schools students often don't even have to answer to the police for their transgressions.  These things are kept quiet and quickly forgotten.  In the poor, predominantly black schools such transgressions earn students suspensions, expulsions, probation, time in juvenile detention, and hefty fines.  

When I was twenty I was walking down the street late at night, drunk, and a police officer driving by gave me a lift home.  When Michael Brown was eighteen he was walking down the street in the middle of the afternoon, sober, and police officer drove by and shot him.

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