Many years before the encounter with the cops at the Exxon station, I was arrested while innocently pursuing one of my favorite outdoor boyhood activities—running spontaneously, with my friend, The Wind.
Growing up in Northeast Washington, DC, if I was not indoors playing with my Hot Wheels or outside tossing a ball around with friends, I enjoyed simply jetting down the streets of my quiet neighborhood or across an open field in a nearby park—all by myself. I absolutely loved to run solo. Still do. Just the Wind and I. Free, like a Cheetah on an open range.
Yeah, I was one of those boys who would just jump up and sprint for no reason at all. Just to entertain myself. I didn’t have to race against anyone. I raced The Wind—mostly from one end of a neighborhood block to the next. I actually outran The Wind once or twice … or so it seemed. Whenever I challenged The Wind to a race, I felt as if it was actually trying to outdo me, and having fun right along with me—sort of like nature showing me that it too had a consciousness, a soul.
Sometimes The Wind would not be at my back, and instead would slam against the front of my body, challenging me to a pushing match. A powerful gust would whip against my face, torso and legs while also forcing nearby trees to bend, howl and scream. I would lean into The Wind and try to lift my legs, gain traction and shove myself forward, trying to … beat … The Wind! Of course, most of those times, I would end up running in place or being pushed backwards.
Every now and then, I felt especially strong and determined. On such high energy days, I tried to defy nature, as my Hot Wheels seemed to defy gravity. Defeat The Wind would be my battle cry. With The Wind blowing hard against me, I would lock my chin against my chest, draw my arms close to my sides, and try to cut through the strong gust—all the while yelling into it: Hey… bud-dee … I … am… strong … ger … than …. You… I … AM! Stronger! After a few moments of this futility, I would finally give up and laugh myself silly. Giving into nature’s power, I would backpedal and let The Wind have its way. But, man, I tell you, it was such a rush taking on nature. Maybe, if I kept trying, one day I’d find a crevice, a gap or a hole in The Wind and then run right through it.
Once in a blue moon, The Wind would let me win. During those rare occasions, just as quickly as The Wind kicked into high gear, it would stop, as if commanded to do so by God. To me, this proved that God had a sense of humor, for I would be trying my best to run through The Wind and then suddenly, the gust would just cease and I would nearly fall on my face, as if God had snapped his fingers and told The Wind, “Hey, stop blowing right now. Let him fall… Ha! Ha!”
Then one sunny summer day, things changed. With The Wind riding my back, I ran up an incline, heading home. I saw about 20 yards in front of me a white policeman in his standard-issue Metropolitan Washington Police Department squad car, blocking my path. The ominous cruiser had a large, gold replica of a cop’s badge painted on the driver’s side door. The officer was scowling beneath his dark shades. He seemed to find nothing on the street more worthy of his intense attention than me, a black boy playing harmlessly with his imaginary friend, The Wind. I stopped running and began walking slowly, apprehensively.
Why was he sitting there staring at me? I wondered.
The year was 1970. America was still on edge following the gut-wrenching assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. two years earlier in Memphis, Tennessee. I had visited Memphis often because my parents had grown up there and my grandmother and other relatives still remained within the borders of that hot, southern town.
I recall anxiously walking home from school early on the day Dr. King was gunned down, on April 4, 1968, exactly one week before my 10th birthday. My family was living in an apartment building on North Capitol Street, NE, a bustling four-lane roadway name. I made it home safely before the Nation’s Capital was transformed into a battlefield. By nightfall, black crowds, enraged that King had been so brutally silenced, angrily tossed Molotov cocktail bombs that exploded into flames inside dozens of stores, including my favorite convenience store, just four blocks north of my home.
Helicopters circled overhead while Army Jeeps and hooded military trucks sped down North Capitol as if they were on horizontal zip lines, pausing briefly only to drop off National Guardsmen to take their positions next to police personnel at various street corners and other strategic locations, including a mini command post three stories below my living room window.
Days later, as the smoke of the bombarded city cleared, political dialogue throughout the Black community heated up. Much criticism was directed towards the police, who were lambasted for failing to protect Dr. King from getting caught in an assassin’s crosshairs. Black activists, many of whom suspected the cops of conspiring to help Dr. King’s killer make the hit, were soon joined by white liberals and hippies in denouncing “the pigs.” Mournful black men, who already felt distrust towards the cops, because of their years of negative experiences with them, stated that Dr. King’s death deepened their distrust. To them, cops now personified all of the ugly racism festering in America.
I began to understand that there were conflicts between black people and the government, hatred among whites towards blacks and, defensively, vice versa. Overall, I sensed that there was a whole bunch of bad stuff going on. I got a clear understanding that America was at war with itself, but especially at war with black people, my people, which meant, in my thinking, that my country was at war with me.
Was my skin color a uniform that forever branded me an enemy in my own homeland? Was I literally born an enemy of the state?
It sure felt like it as I looked at the white cop in his squad car, intentionally cutting off my path and scowling at me.
I began to have conflicting thoughts as I pondered what was now in my 12-year-old mind the biggest question of my life: To run or not to run? The Wind continued to blow. Disturbing images of white cops beating black protestors crashed against my consciousness. Then The Wind stopped blowing and I immediately snapped out of my distress. I said to myself, Forget all this mess, Eddie Sargent. Just run. Move your feet! Cop or no cop, go ‘head and finish running home!
I started jogging straight towards the squad car, and then juked to the right, dashed around the squad car and then juked to the left and kept running up a slight hill. I ran pretty fast.
But not faster than the cop car.
I could see out of the corner of my left eye that the cop had left the intersection and was now following me. Then he passed me and turned right and stopped, blocking my path again. This time his car was facing the opposite direction.
When I reached his car, I stopped running.
“Why were you running? What did you do?” He shouted towards me through the passenger’s side window, his scowl never leaving his chalk white face.
“I didn’t do anything, officer,” I curtly replied, confidently standing with feet spread apart, and arms crossed against my chest.
“So why did you run?”
“Because I’m free!” I was satisfied with my response, proud actually, though the words seemed to pop out of my mouth all by themselves.
The cop just arrogantly shook his head in disgust. “What’s in your pockets?”
“I don’t have to tell you that. Where’s your search warrant? I know my rights, man.”
Then, he warned to “never do that again or I’ll take you in.”
“Always trying to make a black person a slave, right?”
“Yeah, you got it.”
Then he slowly drove away.
As he was leaving, I felt bolder, so much so that I began shouting at the nasty ole cop, taunting and challenging him: “Yeah! Go on back to the suburbs. I bet you don’t stop white boys from running down the street where you live! Do you? Pig!”
Years later, when I worked as a reporter for the Washington Post, I wrote about my repeated intentional police encounters. In the essay, a first-person narrative appearing in the Outlook section, which each Sunday featured opinion pieces and editorials, I discussed my racial experiments. I revealed that I would run “whenever I saw white police officers in cruisers. The officers reminded me of the oppressive slave masters and I loved to tease them. They always gave chase.”
Immediately after the encounter with “the pig,” I walked home very slowly. I reflected on what had just happened. I wondered how I could show such unbridled defiance in the face of authority. My defiance did not surprise me per se. After all, I was a little league middle linebacker. I wore a large number “57” on my jet black jersey, large shoulder pads and a helmet. In my position, I had to be the most defiant player on the field. After the ball was snapped, whoever ended up with it, that was the person I was supposed to stop. Bam! Stick him as hard as I could, and take him down.
My defiance was not limited to the football field. I chased a little smart-ass white boy once, after he called me “nigger” as I was walking home from a basketball court in Hyattsville, Maryland, a white suburb just across the DC line. I was about 11 years old at the time. The racist blonde imp was no more than six or seven. When I first saw him, he was walking across the street from me and heading in the opposite direction. He looked so cute and small that instinctively I smiled and waved at him. I anticipated in that moment there was going to be a positive stretch not just across the street, but also across the racial divide. I reacted to him simply as a human being. His color did not matter. He was just a cute little innocent kid. I expected him to smile and wave back. He opened his mouth and called me a “nigger.” He repeated the smear three times, his tiny voice shouting at me: “nigger-nigger-nigger!” The hateful profanity both stung me and ticked me off. It hurt my feelings, really. I mean, really, it hurt.
I chased his little ass all the way to his home. I barely looked both ways as I ran across the street to catch him.
Fear flushed his face red as he looked into my angry eyes as they headed towards him. He turned his eyes away from me, lifted his hands in the air shaking them fantically and started screaming, “Mommy! Mommy!”
Then he took off, sprinting as fast as he could. He was a quick little sucker. Yeah, he was. I couldn’t catch him. After running about 10 yards, he leaned left at a patch of bushes without losing stride and disappeared between two low rise brick apartment buildings. When I reached the bushes, I slowed down a bit and turned left just in time to see him run through the open patio door of his ground-level apartment. I followed right behind him. He ran through his small living room, turned right and disappeared down a dark hallway. When I reached the living room, I heard a door slam shut. I stopped chasing him, looked around the cluttered room. I saw dirty clothes on the floor and crooked family photographs on the wall, and a comfortable-looking beige pleather couch. Then I thought, What am I doing here? I did not know what to do next. I dared not go any farther into the house. So, I just stood there, desperate for him to come back so I could punch him in the mouth. I wanted some satisfaction. I wanted revenge. I wanted to hurt him like he did to me.
He never re-appeared. Instead, into the living room lumbered his stout, blubbery, pale skin mother. She was jaw-dropped flabbergasted to see me standing in the middle of her home. She looked pitiful, a white trash redneck. Without hesitation, I pointed my finger at her fat face and told her to tell her son to never utter that offensive word again. Before she had a chance to react, I left.
That was then. Me against a harmless brat and his loser mom. When I confronted the sneering cop, my defiance shifted into a more daring and dangerous gear. I had stood my ground against a grown man—an evil-looking, white racist cop with dark, menacing shades, a badge and a gun. Overcoming my initial trepidation, I had faced him down and sent him on his way. Amazing! I thought. That felt pretty cool. In fact, it felt absolutely great! I had contributed in a small but personally meaningful way to the struggle for black freedom and respect, a struggle that heretofore had only been swirling around me, mainly on the monochrome television set on my living room floor. Now I was an active part of “The Struggle.” Right on!
I restarted my dash home with reinvigorated gusto. Reaching my front porch, I marveled at my ability to stiff arm racism, jump over stupid stereotypes and make it home safely. I celebrated as if I had just scored a touchdown.
I immediately thirsted for more successes in The Struggle. I craved to continue proving racist cops wrong. I envisioned showing as many of them as I could how stupid it was to stop a boy from running down the street simply because he is black. I also wanted to become totally fearless of them. Such an accomplishment would mean completing my ascension from the subjugated level of my enslaved fore parents, who were forced to live in fear of overseers all of their lives. I fantasized about taking off running whenever a cop drove nearby, just to beat down my fear and prove my freedom—to myself—again and again until no trace of apprehension, hesitancy, self-consciousness or wariness remained in me.
Testing My Freedom
Within a few days, I decided my purposeful fantasy deserved to be transformed into a hard and fast reality. It would be exhilarating to start running every time I saw a police car cruising through my neighborhood, I thought. To me this would not be childish taunting; it would be taunting with a purpose, mini experiments in self-affirmation and social change.
These are some of the questions I wanted to answer through my experimentation: How widespread is racism among the police? Would every cop chase a black boy if he saw him running down the street? Would every cop assume the worst and believe the black boy running carefree down the street had stolen something or had done something even more sinister than that?
I imagined myself as a formerly enslaved black boy not running towards his freedom, but running in his freedom. I knew the cops couldn’t do anything to me, because I would be innocent of any crime. Their only options would be to either ignore me (which is what they should do, if society had indeed changed for the better) or get mad like the white cop who cut me off with his cruiser (which would teach the hateful law enforcers that they are wrong to always assume the worst about black guys).
Only racial prejudice would make the cops come after me, I hypothesized, so it would be their fault if they wasted their time and energy chasing me down for no reason as I ran freely along the streets of D.C., the capital of the free world. Yes, this would be my contribution to the campaign to “sensitize” the white man. It was also a safe way to poke a finger in his face and tell him to kiss my black butt.
Or so I thought.
I repeated my taunting bursts of not-so-spontaneous spontaneity about a half-dozen times over the course of a year or so. The cops never ignored me. They always checked me out.
Only once during my run-at-the-sight-of-a-cop experimentation did a cop actually express concern about my safety. This good cop encounter caught me off guard. Gently pulling his squad car alongside me, the cop asked me to stop running and then he asked, “Are you, OK?”
Damn, he was throwing off my experiment, trashing my hypothesis, I recall thinking, though not exactly in those grownup terms. He was supposed to stop me and angrily ask, “Why are you running?” He was supposed to assume I was some bad black boy up to no good. But, apparently, this cop did not assume that I was a wrongdoer; he just wanted to make sure that nothing bad had happened to me to make me run. He seemed genuine.
He was a younger looking white cop who struck me as being a rookie, not yet jaded. I looked into his eyes and saw honest concern. He was not frowning and his eyebrows were not furrowed. He was not staring at me intensely like I was a thug. And he did not scowl.
Yeah, this cop was different. He was a good cop. A cool cop. His vibe was positive. I didn’t mind that he did not ignore me and I liked that he was showing care, not suspicion. I stepped closer to his cruiser and peered at the interior of his squad car. I was intrigued by the shiny, beige-and-black two-way radio with its microphone docked in a side holster. A black, rubberized coiled wire was dangling from the bottom end of the mic. As I marveled at the police communications technology in the interior of the vehicle, I heard the faint voice of the police dispatcher talking to an officer in another squad car patrolling somewhere in the area.
“Dispatch … report to scene of the fight… 18th and Montana …”
I heard the static-laced response from the other officer: “Roger!…. crackle… errrp… 10-4 …”
I looked back into the face of the cool rookie. He was smiling at me. He fit the mode of an intelligent professional at work in an interesting job, a man at one with his tools. I studied his smile for a moment. It wasn’t forced. I smiled back at him.
I looked at his attire. His light blue uniform was pressed, with sharp creases. He not only looked neat, he also appeared to be physically fit and professional. Man, I thought, this is the kind of cop we need in the community. For a fleeting moment, I thought, “Wow, being a cop must be pretty cool sometimes.”
One Test Too Many
One day my experimentation took another unexpected twist. Actually, it blew up in my face. It was the last time I would break into a sprint to test or taunt the police. I was about 14 years old by this time. It was early evening on a Saturday, shortly after dusk. The neighborhood was quiet and the sky was growing darker by the minute. I was chillin’ by myself, playing imaginary football on a rocky empty lot next to the laundry mat two blocks down the street from my house. There was no one but me on the entire block at the time. Then a cop car cruised along with two cops inside—one driving and the other riding shotgun. I paused for a moment pondering whether I should stay self-absorbed in my imaginary football stadium or should I run my special, social action experiment on these cops. I decided, why not test these officers before I head home?
Like a nimble middle linebacker after nabbing an interception, I took off running. The deep treads on the bottom of my Chuck Taylors tennis shoes scraped up dirt and grit as I ran off the lot. Then as I hit the concrete pavement of the alley at the rear of the laundry mat, I made a sharp left towards home. The treads sucked the rough surface and gave me such traction it was as if I had on cleats running on a real football field. I was moving so gracefully and fast my imaginary fans in the stadium began to cheer! Go, Eddie, go!
Here Come the Cops!
I kept running faster and faster in a headlong sprint straight through the middle of the alley. A wide smile sprang into my cheeks The Wind whipped slightly against my face. Then I heard a loud mechanical growling noise coming from about 15 yards behind me. It was the cop cruiser’s engine revving mightily. It sounded like the cops were coming after me. No, that can’t be, I told myself. To give them space to pass by me, I veered over to the right side of the alley, close to the low-rise, chain-linked fences lining the backyards of the two dozen or so row houses flushed against the alley. But they didn’t pull alongside of me as whisk on by. They tailed me, like I was a criminal suspect.
As I reached about halfway through the alley, the squad car closed in on me and then slowed to a cruise. Then the siren started to wail. The blaring noise pierced my eardrum: “Arrraaarh-ahhhhhhhhh-arrrrrr-rrahhhhhhhhh!”
I did not turn around. I kept running, in denial, thinking, “Hey, no, this can’t be happening. They’re not coming after me with the siren on. They must be responding to a 9-1-1 call.”
I didn’t bother to glance over my shoulder. I just kept running as fast I could and wishing I had superhuman speed so I could just blast off right then and there, without leaving a trace. I started praying that the cop car would just speed by me on its way to an actual crime scene. But the cops refused to pass me by.
When I finally accepted that these cops behind me blaring all this noise were not going to go away, a twinge of fear punched me in my gut, instantly souring my stomach. This situation did not feel right at all. I slowed down to a trot. The cops pulled alongside me and then crept, keeping pace with my steps as my trot became a dispirited walk. Finally, they turned off their maddening siren. As soon as they did that, I came to an abrupt stop. So did the car, like it was my shadow.
I turned directly towards their car and looked through the window. I saw their four eyes looking back at me. I stood there ready to give them my standard defense. I was going to say that I was not running because of them. I was running just to be running, as any other American boy might do in any other city or town, from sea to shining sea, in this sweet land of liberty. In other words, I was running simply because I was free. Why shouldn’t a black boy be free to run if he feels like it, whenever and where ever?
Both cops, the one in the driver’s seat and the one riding shotgun, were black men about 30-to-40 years old. The cop riding shotgun, apparently more blue than black, looked irritated as he peered into my eyes. He rolled down his window and asked, “Why did you run when you saw us?”
I did not respond immediately to his question. I just kept looking at him. There was something about him that made me feel mute. He looked back at me, waiting for me to answer him. I just did not feel it would be safe saying what I wanted to say to him.
After a few moments of this face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball stalemate, his partner at the wheel of the vehicle turned on the loudspeaker and shouted at me: “If you run from the police, we have to check you out!”
His amplified voice startled me and I instinctively shouted back at him: “Why, can’t a brother just run if he feels like running, huh, officer? I’m free, right?”
The shotgun cop said that’s not something people do—just run to be running when they see the police.
“I did,” I retorted
Shotgun looked at his partner and then they both just kind of smiled and chuckled amongst themselves. Then, shaking his head, Shotgun said, softly: “Son, you’ve got a problem.”
His partner, also apparently more blue than black, chimed in: “Where do you live?”
“Up the street.”
“Is your mother or father home?”
I did not answer.
Shotgun: “What’s your address?”
“I don’t have to tell you that.”
“Then we are going to have to take you in.”
“Somebody might be looking for you, but they haven’t reported it in to us, yet… We have to check you out, see if you’ve done something. You got a record?”
Shotgun and his partner fell silent. Why, I don’t know.
Finally, Shotgun piped up: “I think maybe you were just playing with us. That’s not something you should be doing. Running when you saw us just to see what we would do. You could get hurt doing stuff like that.”
The sky was turning black and suddenly it felt like my whole world was about to be put on lock down by the men in blue. It was an eerie vibe, one of those vibes where you just know this is a moment that you will remember for a very long time. I began to wish that I had not run, had not tempted my fate and not attracted the interest of these bozos with badges and guns who refused to let me go about my playful business.
The two cops exited their vehicle. Shotgun brandished his service revolver.
I felt like taking off and running as fast as I could and not stopping until I’d gotten home and jumped into my bed, safe and sound.
His partner barked at me: “Turn around and place your hands on the fence. Spread your legs.”
I obeyed his commands, hoping my compliance would sway him to call this whole little exercise to an end.
No such luck.
The partner frisked me. Shotgun stood back watching.
“I haven’t done anything,” I protested. “What are you doing? Let me go. I wanna go home, man.”
“Keep your hands on the fence. Don’t turn around. Keep looking straight in front of you. Do not move.”
I was really irritated now, but I remained perfectly still and fully compliant.
Trying to sound tough and demanding, but feeling and sounding nervous instead, I said, “I told you, I need to go home.”
The partner continued barking at me: “You’re not going anywhere. Where do you live?”
I refused to answer that question. I firmly believed that since I had done nothing, they were going to let me go. I did not want them to know where I lived, because I didn’t want the cops coming by my house and worrying my dear mother. Certainly, they were just trying to scare me.
I was wrong.
“Well,” Shotgun said, “since you don’t want to talk to us here we’ll just have to take you to the station. We’re taking you in. You’re under arrest. Put your hands behind your back.”
Stainless steel handcuffs were placed on my wrists. Cliiiii-iick!
Shackled and being led to the back of the squad car, I kept pleading my case.
“I can’t believe you officers are doing this. I didn’t do anything to deserve this. I don’t have time for this. I have to go home right now. I live right up the street! I live on Bunker Hill Road.”
“Too late. We gave you your chance. Now your parents will have to come get you.”
The ride to the police department’s juvenile division substation was very short, just about a mile or so up to the main drag, Rhode Island Avenue. I had passed by the little, red brick building a thousand times while riding with my mother as she drove downtown or to visit relatives, but I never had a reason to go inside.
After the squad car reached the substation, Shotgun walked me inside, unlocked the handcuffs and told me to sit down in a chair near the front door. Then he walked away, leaving me there alone, unshackled. I eyed the front door and wondered what was supposed to happen next. This cop’s just daring me to get up and walk back out the door, I thought. Yeah, all I gotta do is walk out and this little cop game is over. Then again, maybe that’s just a little fool’s test to see if I am stupid enough to try to escape and give them a reason to take me to the juvenile detention facility and lock me up with the stickup boys, thieves and killers.
I sat tight.
After a short while, Shotgun reappeared. He handcuffed me again, this time attaching one cuff to my left wrist and the other cuff to the arm of the chair, leaving my right hand free. Then he skedaddled again.
I just glared at him as he walked quickly away. About 20 minutes passed. Other officers, changing shifts, started walking back and forth, passing me and saying nothing. Some glanced at me and snickered.
I could not believe the cops would humiliate me like this.
Shotgun’s partner walked in. Standing in front of me, he said, “Now, where is that you said you lived? We need your full address and telephone number, son.”
I dejectedly told the cop everything he wanted to know.
As he talked to me, standing over me, I eyed the gun in his holster. I was so angry at this point that I imagined snatching his gun and shooting him for dragging me in and humiliating me. But, I didn’t have the guts to do it. Besides, it would only make matters worse for me, and make him a hero by default.
I figured that I would just have to settle for a good tongue lashing and whipping from my sweet mother and then put this sorry episode behind me. My little running for freedom experimentation had blown up and there was nothing for me to do now but comply with the cops and face the music at home.
After writing down my contact information, the partner said “Alright son, you did the right thing. If you hadn’t given us this information, you would be going to juvenile detention tonight … Now, just hold tight. Wait right here.”
Wait right here? What was that supposed to be, a joke? What else was I supposed to do—get up and walk out dragging the handcuffed chair behind me?
He went behind a counter across the hall from where I was seated and called my mother. I could hear him speaking to my mother in a most respectful hushed tone. That made me feel better. He had better not disrespect my mom!
“Do you want us to come get you, ma’am? … OK, you know where we are? Yes, on Rhode Island Avenue. Yes, ma’am. Take your time … Yes, ma’am, your son is OK.”
Just the thought of my mother unraveling made me so ashamed. Tears welled up in the ducts of my eyes and then streamed down my face. Mama must have jumped in the blue Ford Fairlane and sped all the way to the substation, because she rushed through the door in what seemed like just a few minutes after the cop hung up the phone. He legs immediately stopped moving, her mouth drooped and her eyes bulged when she saw me handcuffed to the chair.
I felt so emasculated … I looked at her, shook my head, wiped my tears with my right hand and said, “I’m sorry, Mom. I didn’t want you to have to come down here and see me like this.”
My mother’s jaws tightened. Then she said in a clenched-teeth yell: “Be quiet, Edward.”
Shotgun’s partner told my mother, “We can let him go right now. Thanks for coming. You don’t have to sign anything. There is no paper work. There is no record of this arrest at all.”
“Thank you, officer,” my mother said. “Thank you.”
“But we don’t want to see your son in here again. We taught him an important lesson today. We had to teach him not to run from the police under any circumstances. We did this for his own good.”
He sounded like he was apologizing to my mother. What about me? I’m the one you brought in here, ya idiot. Of course I dared not say this out loud. No need to make him change his mind about setting me free.
“I don’t know what could have gotten into him, officer,” Mom said. “I assure you this won’t happen again, right Edward?”
“Take care, son,” the partner said.
I didn’t even look at him. I just shook my head and walked out, following my mother to her car. I held the car driver’s side door open for her and then got into the front passenger seat.
Looking straight ahead as she drove home, my mother let me have it. “Don’t you ever, ever do anything like that again in your life. Do you want to go to jail? This makes no sense. What do you have to say for yourself, Edward Dwayne?
“I didn’t mean for this to happen, Mama,” I sheepishly said.
“You are grounded for one week,” my mother responded. “Just stay in your room and don’t come out except to go to school and eat. No TV. No games. No going out to play … (Long silence.)” She began to whimper. “I didn’t know what to think when the police called me. I’m a total wreck. When we get home, go upstairs, take a bath and go to bed … And forget about eating dinner tonight.”
She was angry, hurt and embarrassed. And then sounding like she was about to break down and cry, she softly said, “Edward, promise me you will never do this again.”
“I promise, Mama. But I didn’t do anything. I was just …”
“Be quiet, Edward!”
“OK. I’m sorry. Yes, Ma’am.”
For several weeks afterward, I felt over and over again the sour-stomach feeling that started when the cops chased me down, put me in handcuffs, hauled me to the substation, and chained me to the chair.
My God, how in the hell can they just do that and get away with it? I didn’t need that lesson. I was cured when I heard the siren closing in on me. All the rest of that was overkill.
Of all the memorable experiences in my youth, the indignity and trauma of that episode is one of my most vivid.
I had wanted to see how cops would react to a harmless black boy running freely, minding his own business. Well, I guess I finally got my answer.
Though I had done nothing wrong, had no weapon or merchandise that could have been mistaken for stolen goods, told them exactly why I was running and despite the fact that there was no radio alert that a boy fitting my description had committed a crime, they still handcuffed and demeaned me. If they wanted to help me, certainly there was a better way to handle the situation without doing something that instilled distrust and hate towards law enforcement.
I can only wonder how the police would have treated a blonde white boy playfully running through his all-white suburban neighborhood. Apparently, the common boyhood antic of running when the cops roll by is something reserved for them only. White boys are treated like innocent kids. Black boys are treated like criminals.
Racist law enforcement. You can’t run from it. You cannot escape the blue beast.
As you know by now from what I wrote earlier, my busted prank would not be the last time I would have a negative police encounter. Cops have unjustly ordered me around and placed their hands on me many times since then, as if they believe they have the right to do so whenever they please.
But I have not shed any more tears. No more pleading for the cops to let me go. No more experimental running. Just a lot of outrage and disgust, and a whole lot of searching for ways to stand my ground and fight for true freedom and justice.