At around 16-17 years old I did not have a car. So I rode my bike or walked anywhere I wanted to go. Store managers sometimes searched my backpack or my person only to find I had not in fact shoplifted anything. Loss control or security guards would follow me around the store. Neighborhood watch people kicked me out. Police interrogated me about what had been doing and intended to do.Â This pattern of distrust about who I am was well prepared for as my father raised me to understand it could happen not just “the talk” but ongoing pointing out to think about how about how others perceive me. He wanted me not to get upset because my anger would play into their hands proving I am dangerous like they assumed. Also, just obeying commands to get out of the situation could prevent things from escalating out of control. (Interestingly work’s security expert gave the same obey advice when police are looking for a suspect.)
Every time it was upsetting. Even today almost two decades later, in the back of my head I know that I have to avoid behaviors that will draw suspicion because I am likely guilty until proven innocent. It is better to go into a store wearing a dress shirt or polo with slacks than shorts and a teeshirt. If I take my phone out of my pocket, then it stays out until at the cashier where putting something in my pocket is normal. And while I may think of wearing a basketball jersey so TSA thinks I am black not potentially arabic, never ever ever wear a hoodie because that slides me in the direction of appearing to be a criminal.
This is why I feel sad Trayvon Martin‘s family lost him because a self-appointed neighborhood watch character armed with a gun decided to follow, then chase, then ambush this 17 year old kid in a hoodie armed with Skittles and tea. Nothing can fully repair this.
Zimmerman, Trayvon’s killer, said on the 911 call Martin was acting guilty of something. This was also the stated reason the store managers, security guards, neighborhood watch, and police stopped me at Trayvon’s age. Who isn’t when creepy people follow them around?
The whole thing smacks me ofÂ Jean Charles de MenezesÂ in 2005 London. A guy leaves his apartment. Guys follow him onto a train. He tries to run from them only they turn out to be police who shoot him. His crime was both living in an apartment building under surveillance and attempting to resist people who did not look like police but were.
Resist? Get shot. Run? Get shot. Do whatever the people with the guns say and maybe live to tell a lawyer.
Last weekend, a female friend, described how she would not be willing to just obey commands. As a big black guy, I have to worry about keeping people from worrying about me attacking them. If provoked, then they are going to put me down lethally or non-lethally. For my female friend, she has to worry about rape, but she is also does not present the physical threat I do. We have two completely different perspectives. But I think we understand each other’s.