Last night on my way home, I could not stop thinking of Keith Lamont. With all of the extra judicial murders of Black people, this one has hit me in a way the others haven’t quite.
The reason is, I could have been him. In the most real way.
When I was young, one of my first negative interactions with a police officer was over a book and being a young Black child in public. I was waiting outside of the library for my Mom to get off of work and was as kids do kind of sprawled out in a messy way, in the sun reading. Prior to that, like most kids my age I was taught that the police were my friends. Prior to that, my image of police was based on being handed a teddy bear after an incident and hugged. I remember a tall White policeman promising to protect my Mother and I until my Dad arrived on scene.
I remembered, a policeman knocking on the door while I was home alone to make sure I was okay because there was someone terrorizing my neighborhood.
That first negative interaction changed it all.
I was accused of trolling for Johns, I didn’t look like a grown woman, I wasn’t walking or flagging. I was sitting on a concrete bench thing, reading a book. When I was confused, he insisted I provide ID. I didn’t understand because I was a child. No one prepared me for it. Nobody ever told me that a cop might criminalize me and I’d need to figure out how to be safe.
He accused me of stealing the stack of books next to me. Said I was lying about waiting for my Mom. Accused me of doing all sorts of things I didn’t understand. He did go away eventually and I was so terrified I had done something wrong I never told my Mom.
As an adult, I have been questioned for being Black in public at a bus stop and reading. Again, informed that I was under suspicion or someone called the police because I was reading.
In the era of #BlacklivesMatter I’ve been at a deep loss as to how to deal with my terror, despair and rage. Because of my work schedule and need to go to work, I haven’t been to protests. My personal mental health issues make marching not really ideal or good for me at all.
Last night, while I was waiting for the bus and I watched a White woman scoot away from me because I must have looked very scary in my platform shoes and tired face, I decided to protest silently in the way that works for me.
I pulled a book out of my bag, put some music on and read.
When I got to my second bus stop for the last leg of my commute, I sat quietly on a bench by myself, book in hand. It took less than ten minutes for me to get cruised by police. I watched the cruiser slow down and I looked up at them, then glanced behind me and no one was there.
While the officer was watching me read, I heard men yelling, I saw drunks stumbling but I was the clear danger.
For a minute, I was close to putting my book away and going into the little store by the bus stop or getting up and walking to another stop out of fear of being “contacted” and questioned about who knows what and potentially harmed.
Then, I didn’t.
I made eye contact (a thing I do not do with the police ever) and continued to read my book.
Is this the loudest form of protest? No.
I don’t know if it would be recognized at all. And I’ve realized that isn’t important to me. Because I am Black and have to be outside and in public and cannot hide from the gaze of the police here, I will keep reading in public.
I also want to say this. I’ve heard from people over the past couple of years that me writing about these things doesn’t count. That because I’m not a marching type of person, I am doing nothing.
And then nights like the one I had earlier this week, I managed to walk home with my head held up high, alone while being followed by police. The same police who see me every night, at the same time give or take 20 minutes who have never said hello to me. Who have followed me, spotlighted me, lingered in a creepy fashion for years. I’m still able to get home and I leave my house every day and I’m alive.
I am terrified a lot. Sometimes, I text my partner if I’m nervous, so he knows if I’m too late something might have happened. Sometimes, while I’m walking I have to keep my hands in my pockets because I am shaking.
I’m still here.
I’m still using my voice to the best of my ability so it counts.
If I become a hashtag. I know that entries like this will be pointed at as reasons why I deserved it.