Monday, January 12, 2009

Put a Dent in It

I don't like to using the term 'my White friend' when Jason is much more than a color or political tag. But in this case I'm merely trying to make a point...

We go way back to when our kids were old enough to walk on their own, so when Jason's son (who's now a college freshman away from home) decided to stay by me because of a plane layover before continuing up to Maine by bus I was thrilled, because it gave me a chance to play the good uncle.

The next morning I took my buddy's son to Port Authorities and helped him purchase his bus ticket. As I stood by him, I noticed a White police officer giving me a menacing look. I paid him no mind because as a Black man in America that's just one of those everyday hassles we have to put up with, like not being able to get a cab or Scarlet O'Haras clutching their purses when they see you coming. So we just went on about our bizness, talking about his holiday course assignments, how he enjoys the dorm life, sports, J-Lo (he's in love with Jennifer Lopez), and the fun he plans on having once he reaches home, all the while looking for his gate. Just when we found it, that same police officer yelled a loud "Yo!!!" causing everyone and his mother to look our way! He made it so obvious that it was me he was talking to that I turned to him and calmly asked, "What's the problem?" to which he answered, "Well, you look like a hustler!"...(a person who employs fraudulent or unscrupulous methods to obtain money; a swindler-- Random House unabridged dictionary 2006)..."As a matter fact," he added, "you look like one of our regulars." I could tell the mixed crowd was prepared for a Rodney King scene just by the worried look on their faces, so after a few seconds of staring at po-po as he stared back at me--a dance full of unpleasant memories from either side--I simply turned around and went back to talking to my play nephew, noticing his own worried look, no doubt intimidated by the intrusion. I expected another Yo! and got ready for the get-down but then suddenly the officer disappeared, just as the Boston/Maine bus pulled up.

As embarassing as it was to have to be called out like that from a blue, I knew it was important that I kept my head high in front of an audience who already were used to seeing Black men murdered by NYPD over less uneventful situations, especially those bystanders of darker complexions who've succombed to powerlessness or business as usual. Plus, Jason's wife expected her son to come home safely and I felt I owed it to her, both as a parent myself and longtime friend, to not allow my ego to cause her to hear about blood and handcuffs, whether I deserved it or not. So rather than send her son off with hate and immobility, I chose instead to encourage him to take what he just witnessed as education outside of the classroom, the kind of lesson plans most teachers avoid out of an uneasiness to discuss the obvious. He felt bad, of course, having turned into an adult in a matter of minutes. Had his skin color been darker, I would've given him the same lecture James Baldwin gave his nephew in The Fire Next Time. But his pale skin makes him a beneficiary of a privileged race, so the lesson for him was not coping skills and how to not internalize racism, but the acknowledgement that the term post-racial means that racism and racial profiling is only dead in principal; that had Al Sharpton ran for President we would've been celebrating Hillary Clinton's inauguration instead, maybe even Mcain's.

Consequently, his parents had decided that their son needed to witness the unfair treatment of a Black man for the sake of his character as both an American and a citizen of the world, especially since wearing timbs, baggy jeans, a bomber jacket and ski hat is apparently a hustler's uniform, according to a biased cop who neglected to pay attention to body language. Had he been less ignorant, less-focused on finding reason to bully me with his badge, he would've noticed that the interaction between me and the youth was intimate and not tense. But he must've found it strange to see a White college kid being so familiar with a Black man, even in New York City.

Come to think of it, what if I were the one perceived as being swindled? What if this younger White male who also had on winter gear was trying to hustle me? Did that possibility ever occur to this policeman? Or did his disgust for something so unusually normal kidnap his brain cells the moment he saw us?

The sidebar is that I made a point of reporting the incident to the Port Authority heads, even though it took three hours for them to finally give me a form that I completed in three minutes! They tried all kinds of ploys to discourage me from making the report, from saying I could've been arrested for trespassing since I was standing right at the bus gate with no passenger ticket to making me use the top of a trash can as a counter since they wouldn't allow me to use theirs. Still, I stayed determined and centered since I knew that their only weapon would be my reacting. Because once you react, my friends, they get to switch the table on you, as in Get the Black Guy 101! Must be part ot their training or something. Like when European immigrants had to pass through Ellis Island for inoculation and indoctrination (...And stay away from this one!). Even Governor Patterson's portrait placed high on one of the walls wasn't enough to encourage me to keep in mind that the badge of honor is meant to protect me, since often times blue supercedes Black much like the king piece in chess-- Looks presidential, but very limited moves.

And then there was this terrorist hall of fame poster of Arab faces and names placed outside the unit's doors, and I wondered why Timothy McVeigh wasn't on it. The White guy who bombed Oaklahoma City six years prior to 9/11, along with the culprits who ignored the 1,900 pleas for help after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. It showed us just how significant Black people are in this country, compared to the quick response folks all the way in Asia received after Tsunami. I mean, if you gotta wave an American flag to prove to your own government that you're worth rescuing too, it pretty much says it all.

The other sidebar is the recent murder of yet another innocent bruh, Oscar Grant from Oakland, CA. The good news is that his murderer, ex-transit officer Johannes Mehserle was arrested and convicted after an outstanding show of civil disobedience from not only us but Whites as well, with the help of a passenger's cell phone video. I considered Sean Bell's case over on this side and how very few Whites showed support. Was it because there was no video to confirm the killing, so they chose instead to simply lower their heads out of fear of 5.0? Guilt maybe? Yet in Oscar's case one bullet was enough to inspire crowds of White folks to protest, while fifty bullets for Sean apparently wasn't enough to get the right number of White people involved. Count that. Fifty shots! See it. Fifty bullet wounds!!! No Stop, Police! and the standard shot in the leg to cause the alleged offender to cut short his running. 50 bullet wounds!!! Now, that's not Stop or we'll shoot. That's Die nigger! Die!!!!

I coulnd't help thinking about Sean when that over-zealous cop rolled up on me the way he did. It's part of the American Black male experience. The same post traumatic slave syndrome Dr. Joy DeGruy talks about. You know, worrying about not having the right ID on you for fear of being beaten and locked up. Worrying about dogs chasing you for having the wrong skin color. Worrying about being lynched because you're in the wrong hood. Those annoying little disturbances that White folks never have to deal with. Imagine that. To get up in the morning and not even think about your skin color, and how it will affect your day...

But I remembered my father's teachings and showed the fool who I am, as opposed to what he was expecting me to act like.

So I put a dent in it. I rejected the temptation to generalize all police officers and also remembered my White allies. Those who've proven their friendships to me during our years of learning one another and having each other's backs. For as much as I wanted to tell po-po, in return, that he looked like an asshole, one of OUR regulars, as a matter of fact, I knew de-socialization was more powerful than blood and handcuffs. I knew there was a possibility that this New York City crowd may not have been as dedicated to justice as folks in Cali were. I knew I'd have my say later when the officer's files included my complaint, along with recommendations to both him and his trainers. I knew all I had to do was chill, bite the bullet, as it may, then check on-line for the civilian complaint revue board to make sure my complaint was taken seriously. I also sent a copy of it to Governor Paterson to give him a chance to have a chat with the blues about hustler profiling.

I put a dent in it, reminding myself what I had initially planned on doing right after making sure my friends' son was on the right bus home, which was to take pictures of the first snow. It doesn't prevent a next time to happen to me, and it doesn't mean there won't be another Sean or Oscar. But it does mean the ability to remember who you are, even when less dignified people think less of you. To rise up and keep going, and to let karma be the bitch she's supposed to be!

Riverside Park

Washington Heights intersection

Downtown Manhattan

Battery Park

Battery Park 2

Battery Park 3

Tribeca park

Guava birdhouse

Squirrel posing by tree

Plant in snow

Dancing tree lights

Dancing night lights

Dancing night lights2

Glass building


White flowers

Violent sky

Battery Park too

Snowman on my roof

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