Part II: Were We Profiled? If so, Why?
That's a loaded question that I'm interested in you, the reader, answering.
What I can say is with no amount of uncertainty that night developed in me a wariness for the police. I am sure they have a wariness of people that look like me. Hence a line was drawn. But why? Because of my skin color? Or is there something more?
I am a big proponent for therapy, counseling and open dialogue. Yet 20 years later, my friend and I have never discussed that night. The one where police pulled us over for a Uu-turn. Pulled us from the car, searched it and never issued a ticket.
As teenagers and college students during the '80s and '90s, we heard the news stories about racial profiling and black-on-black crime. You couldn't turn on the news and not hear a story about a homicide in the city. Young men had fat wads of cash in their pockets that they could spend on themselves and their girlfriends. Girls had the big earrings with their names written inside. Guys wore thick gold chains, Timberland boots, fresh new jeans and sneakers. They were fly and hip. The hip hop culture was born and growing fast. All of this despite Reaganomics and a terrible recession, similar to the one we just got out of.
So were we profiled? We were dressed up! My friend may have had on a gold chain, but nothing flashy. I wasn't wearing one. His seat wasn't leaning into the back seat like many young men did at the time. I didn't like mine back that far.
Now, the music may have been loud. We liked to listen to go-go tapes like many other young people. Some of you might say, we were simply profiled for being young African-American men. But how does that fit into profiling, when the police officers were African-American in a predominantly African-American city? Why would they profile their own?
Two years ago, a conversation in the Howard University Student Association offices with students made me think about that night. It set me on a course to even understand officers thinking and their actions had to do with their lack of training.
At the time, my company, The Madyun Group (TMG), was sponsoring and planning a Party Politics forum with HUSA. The discussion that day deviated and we began discussing eras in African-American history. We talked about the '60s and integration. An African-American male student said something I found profound and true: "Atiba, we were making a lot of progress until the crack epidemic." The room went silent as he illustrated and explained his point.
I left, my thoughts racing. This profound statement helped me reconcile some of the pain from that night twenty years ago. Events from my youth from that era began to make sense and I did my own research. After watching Fruitvale Station this weekend, I did even more.
Fruitvale Station moved me to finally write this essay I want you to read. The essay has been brewing in my head for a long time. The movie pushed me to write it. When Trayvon Martin was killed and George Zimmerman was acquitted, I wrote on my FB wall that the conversation needed to be had transcends race. After the movie, I believe it even more.
After the Zimmerman trial ended, civil rights leaders and so-called scholars paraded on television to fan the flames of hate and race. They pointed fingers at everyone but themselves.
My posted comments touched some people. They responded with emails, texts and post responses. Some were so kind from friends here and abroad. They shared stories of their friends experiences as African-Americans. They didn't want to post on my page because they aren't African-American. Not because they didn't feel outrage at the verdict.
And I got responses from African-American mothers. I found some of their comments as insensitive because I didn't agree with civil rights leaders. They said I didn't understand because I am not a parent of an African American male. They neglected this. I am an African-American man and they can never understand, what it is like to be one.
What they and so called leaders neglect to do is, accept their role in why our young men are unfairly targeted. Where is their outcry this year for more than 200 dead in Chicago? Or for young men killed by police officers in Oklahoma and Florida? Where are they, when 20 young children are killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School? Or when Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others are shot in Arizona? When innocent people are killed in a movie theater? Or when gun control legislation is voted down?
So, I write to tell the part of the story we neglect to remember. The one that leads back to policy and transcends race at the same time acknowledging the obvious.
The young man at Howard University helped me remember and acknowledge that I too am to blame. This essay is broken into parts. They are not just thoughts. They are thoughts supported by articles and links. I give them to you, to draw your conclusions. But to make this a whole discussion.
This is a way to address the apathy, complacency and acceptance for mediocrity that we allowed that slowed progress. It is an alternative to pointing the finger at others. An opportunity to right the past, by remembering it. Race and profiling occur far to often, but why? Too often we ignore public policy because we don't understand it. We ignore politics because it sickens us. And we forget that money is always a part of the problem because we like it so much.
If we want to protect our next generation, we cannot keep focusing on an issue. We have to look back to see where the problem began.
Part III: The '80s and '90s The Crack in the Armor!