Now that I have halted my crying, I can tell my story – when you hear/read all those stories of unarmed civilians being shot/harmed/killed by law enforcement, you, as a racial minority, wonder when you will find yourself in that situation and what you would do to come out of it alive.
Just over two hours ago, I found myself being placed in the back of a police cruiser and answering questions from 3 police officers who had pulled out behind my car in two police vehicles.
What was my crime: apparently someone (the only person I had last seen in my vicinity was a middle-aged white male) had called the police and told them that I was trying to steal a car packed in the parking lot of an auto-mechanic shop.
How did I end up in this situation: my car was having problems so I dropped it off at the workshop of my regular mechanic. This repair shop is just a street away from where I live and a few feet from where I can catch and get off that public city bus.
The neighborhood is at the edge of the largest public university and so the majority of the residents are students, university employees, or those who work in the two very large hospitals (university hospital and a huge private hospital); my mechanic’s shop is just opposite the offices of the city’s local NBC TV affiliate; multiple restaurants and eatery/restaurants of different price structures abound …
… so people are always walking around and this would not be a good place to commit a robbery in broad day light from a shop that is adjacent to a fast food joint.
I started the day very early (5.00 a.m.) so that I could get my two buses to get to work on time; my car was at the mechanic’s shop during the course of the day, the mechanic gives me a call and says the repairs have been completed and that I could pick up the car any time. I inform him that the bus would get me to the shop after hours and he offers to leave the car key hidden in a place where I could pick it (spare one was at home) when I got off the bus.
A few hours later, I get to the shop, call the mechanic and he guides me to locate the car key; I am seated in my car talking to my mechanic telling him that whatever repairs he had made were not sufficient as the car had refused to start & that I would leave it on the lot for him to look over; just then I see two police cruisers pull up behind me.
Two officers approach my car – one on either side of the car; one police officer asks to me to roll the window down while another asks me what I am doing and is touching the belt where his pistol is hanging.
I am confused at this time about who to answer first; at this time all the recent episodes of police interaction with minorities are flashing through my mind. One persistent thought was that “hey, whatever you do, don’t make any sudden moves that will get you killed, you have to get through this situation alive”.
Of course, this is when I realize that whatever trouble was happening to the car meant that the automatic windows could not roll down, so I decide to open the driver’s door. I made sure that my hands could be seen and that I repeated each question from the officers; was asked what I am doing – I said I came on the bus and I am picking up my car. One officer asked me are you sure that this is your car because someone called you in that you are trying to steal cars here…. this is not your car … you are trying to steal two cars …. how come car won’t start?
My response was that whatever repairs the mechanic made failed and I just informed him of the same … do you want to talk to him? Officer: no, why are you picking up your car now when mechanic is not here? Me: because the bus got here after hours and I really need to run errands so mechanic told me to take it – errand in this case being trying to go to a money transfer place and send my family money because my father was hospitalized.
Another officer: can we see your ID? Which was inside my bag … so I asked for permission to get it. When I handed them the ID, then I was ordered to step out of the car and one officer pulled both my hands behind my back and took me to the back of one of the police cruisers and closed the door – thank heavens I was not hand cuffed.
Police officers call in my information for a check about the registration of the car and also if I have any outstanding legal issues or tickets. Police record comes back clean. Once again, they tell me that a person called me in as a suspicious person stealing cars but that all my information checked out and so I could go. I left my car there and I walked away crying & asking myself this question:
What about me made someone immediately think that I am a thief rather that a “damsel in distress?”
If I had looked different, could the person who called in the police report have first thought that maybe I was having car trouble rather than the first thought being that I am a thief trying to steal two cars …. all by my lonesome self?
Something that has always bothered me about these incidents in the news about fatal shootings of unarmed people (especially racial minorities) is the role that ordinary citizens played in bringing about the subsequent killings.
Who do we immediately think of as suspicious and how is this feeling influenced by our biases and stereotypes? Of course I could not go to send money to my family to help with my hospitalized father. I just proceeded walking home to resume the errand tomorrow because I think my luck for today may have just run out.
That is a day in the life of this immigrant.
Yes, of course, I am crying again.