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JeRod Lindsey is a 2014 University of Cincinnati graduate and is employed as an account executive.
“You have two strikes against you: you are black and you’re a man.”
I was around the age of five when my mother first made this statement. Coincidentally, this was the same year that African-Americans were causing an uproar over Rodney King being beaten by police officers in California. It wasn’t until the Michael Brown situation in Ferguson, when a friend of mine commented that she is scared to raise a black child in today’s society, that I made this connection.
Growing up in poverty, black children are likely to interact with law enforcement well before their adult years. I cannot speak for the entire black race on how these encounters shape their perception of the police, but I will share my experiences with the police as a black male and how that shaped how I would eventually feel about law enforcement.
These are my encounters with the law until the age of 18. I hope they can provide some insights into how I and others feel about police:
- A female police officer comments, “What type of mother teaches their child to lie?” after Nikki, my oldest sister, refuses to open the door for the officer looking to speak with my mom.
- My mother lays newspaper down for my sisters and I to eat lunch on and we see a picture of our father in the "wanted" section.
- As she gets off the school bus, Nikki sees my mother getting arrested. That night, Nikki told us about it in tears.
- My grandmother is arrested for writing bad checks. She did this so my sisters and I could have a decent Christmas.
- My father dies in prison. My mother is also in jail and cannot attend the funeral because he and she were no longer married.
- At 12 and 14, my younger sister, Brittany, and I are arrested in North College Hill. Brittany and a group of friends are sitting on the steps at the corner of Hamilton and Galbraith when the police arrive to tell them to leave. I see this from across the street and walk toward the situation. By the time I cross the street, they’re arresting Brittany for “disorderly conduct” because she was “backtalking.” I began to ask what’s going on, and as I persist with questions, I too am arrested. To be brief, Brittany gets maced and thrown in the back of the police car on her back, where she would kick out the window because “the mace burns.” I also get arrested and charged with obstruction of justice, resisting arrest, and assault on a police officer. The assault on the police officer charge would be dismissed because the judge “[did] not believe that someone 5’2" and 110 pounds could physically do the harm that was suggested.
- A group of friends and I are arrested for stealing clothes from Macy’s.
When I turned 18, I had my sister go with me to buy a car. At the time, no one in my family owned one and I was determined to learn how to drive before my senior year in high school was complete. Honestly, I do not remember my first traffic stop. It was the subsequent ones that invoked a sense of nervousness in me. I began driving illegally after my license was suspended for driving without insurance. I would incur fines, be jailed for days at a time, and eventually have my license suspended. But I had become spoiled by the pleasures of driving. I no longer had to stand in the rain or snow waiting for the bus. I could also leave work and be home in 20 minutes opposed to an hour and 20 minutes because I owned my own transportation. Not to mention the boost that driving had given my social life.
A year later, at 19, I went to the Kentucky Derby with some friends. Knowing that my license was suspended, I did not drive at all during the road trip. As we finally reached Louisville, I was excited by the atmosphere and festivities, so I told my close friend to let me drive. Unaware of our surroundings, we made a right turn on a street that had been closed due to the violence that took place the previous year. As the cops waved us in the other direction, they told us to pull over because the car smelled like weed. We were guilty of smoking weed on the way down to Louisville, we also had an assault rifle beneath the seat of the vehicle. As we pulled over all I could think of is the time that I was about to face in prison.
My life as I knew it was about to be changed forever. No more chasing women in the early hours of the morning, no more waking up to the smell of bacon and eggs. Then I thought of my mother’s bills and became shattered at the thought that she would no longer have my help to make ends meet. I was on my way to becoming a felon, like my parents before me. Fortunately, the police did not lift the seat and find the weapon, yet I was still arrested for driving under suspension. One officer said that had it been any other weekend I would probably be issued a citation but the city tends to be less lenient during Derby weekend.
As a black male, something as simple as driving without a license can truly be life altering. I understood it was illegal, but I was naturally rebellious against a system that had never done me any justice. I had also taken additional responsibilities that made driving necessary. But every time I would see a police car my heart would drop. To this day I put two hands on the steering wheel, drive 5 mph below the speed limit and do everything possible to avoid contact with the police. Until recently, it was not the fear of police brutality that cautioned me but the thought of what they could and would do to my livelihood in the form of arrest or towing my vehicle.
Too often the story that leads to the climax is negated. Was I wrong for driving without license? Definitely. But had I not began to drive without them then when would I learn. There was no one to teach me so I took it upon myself to do what was necessary to partake in the world around me. I had grown tired of waiting, whether it be on the bus or the broken promises of my elders.
I know all cops do not partake in racial profiling just as all black males aren’t criminals. Yet, these stereotypes precede our relationships and often create added friction to what may already be tense situations.
For the most part, my interactions with cops as an adult have gone as pleasantly as one could expect considering the circumstances. It is the few occasions when a cop has stopped me and spoken as if I am beneath him that makes my blood boil. One should be treated with respect even as a transgressor of the law. Aren’t we innocent until proven guilty?
As author James Baldwin once stated, “The law is meant to be my servant, not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer.”
As my Facebook timeline continues to overdose on stories of police brutality, I am constantly reminded that if I am stopped by a cop I should be on my best behavior because, as my mother said years ago, I already have two strikes against me.