For the past three years of my life I have served as a law enforcement officer in New Jersey. One thing that I have noticed while being a public servant is the positive reactions that I receive from people ― mainly people who are white ― as opposed to the treatment that I receive for being “only” in my black skin.
Prior to me becoming an officer I would get pulled over quite often while I was driving in a suburban neighborhood, specifically at night. While in stores I would get harassed because they thought I might deprive them of goods, and most of all, I faced many moments where I walked in a predominantly white populated room and people ignored me when I wasn’t in my uniform. I felt as though I was being ignored for the color of my skin and not the content of my character.
I remember a time when I was riding in my car with a childhood friend, who was the driver of a brand new 2008 Dodge Avenger, and I had the windows down, music blasting and the seat adjusted to the lowest point possible. You know, just relaxing. While driving I entered a town located in central New Jersey, and just as I was enjoying the remainder of the night while on the way to drop off my friend, I was pulled over by an undercover police car.
The officers jumped out of their vehicles immediately and asked me and my friend to step out of the car. Shortly after, three more police vehicles came. Before being asked any questions I was patted down and held against my will by the officers. About three officers searched my vehicle without a warrant or explanation and opened my trunk without my consent. After 10 minutes of searching my vehicle they asked me and my friend if we have drugs on us and if so where did we stash it.
The harassment lasted over 25 minutes and it only ceased due to a transmission that was received from their command post that stated, “attention all units we have the guys that were involved in the robbery in custody.” As the officers told us we were free to go, the only thing that I could think of was “Why? What did I do to be treated like a criminal?”
As one of the officers was getting into his vehicle before he sped off he simply said to me, “Your vehicle matched the description of a robbery suspect’s vehicle, but don’t worry about it, you are good, go home!”
Don’t worry about it? I am worried that I can get forced out my vehicle for an unjust pat down without explanation.
Don’t worry about it? I am worried that I match the description of a potential robbery suspect’s vehicle; I am worried that I can get forced out my vehicle for an unjust pat down without explanation. I am worried that my night can take a turn for the worst for no reason, and yes, I am worried that a suspect’s description by way of bearing the same skin pigment as me is enough to pull me out of my vehicle without explanation!
I looked at my friend and shook my head as the officers walked back to their various police vehicles and drove away. That was a night I will never forget to say the least ― a night where I felt powerless, abused and victimized by authorities who took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States.
Currently I am an officer now and a similar situation occurred not too long ago. I was driving up the block in a New Jersey suburb with the windows down, music blasting and laughing with a buddy. I was pulled over by the local police. He walked up to the car and yelled out loud, “license, registration and insurance card.” I replied, “Sure sir and I am on the job by the way.” (Police lingo for I too am a public servant, serving as a police officer.) He replied to me, “Oh well why didn’t you say that as I was yelling at you?” I said, “Why were you yelling sir?” He chuckled and replied, “No issue, now have a nice night.”
As he walked back to his car without giving me a reason as to why he pulled me over to begin with, I thought to myself, what would have happened if I waited another moment before I communicated to him that I was an officer. Would I have been pulled out the car again? Would I have been accused of fitting the description of a suspect in the area? Would I have been spoken to like a toddler and held against my will? But that wasn’t the case this time, all because I showed him a badge and identification that showed my credentials as a police officer and not just another black guy.
What would have happened if I waited another moment before I communicated to him that I was an officer?
Later that night as I was home laying in the bed, I wondered if the police badge and identification that I provided to the officer who pulled me over made me appear as a white man in America? A question I still think about today!
As my career continues in law enforcement during these challenging times, as a police officer but mainly as a black man in America, the thought constantly runs through my mind that this world is full of problems that needs to be addressed immediately. And race is at the top of the list.
We need help in an imperative way or all people will perish for lack of unity. I look forward into the future of my life and career to see what events occur that will help shape the way I protect and serve. I believe in being a fair officer who treats everyone equal and like a human beings regardless of what they did. I believe that justice will be served by the law and God and it is not my job to pass judgement or discriminate a person based on the color of their skin, their social class or anything else.
But luckily, no matter what events occur to me in my lifetime, when I am in my police uniform or my black skin, I am morally grounded and live by the mantra, “Treat others how you would like to be treated.” But I do wonder if being spoken to by the police nicely is one of the privileges you get “only” when you are white in America. Not everyone will ever come close to the answer to that. But I am sure being a black man in a police uniform is the closest that I will ever get to an answer.