It was a sunny afternoon in “Pollock Town” and the bells signaling the end of my school day at Camden High had rang a few hours before. I was home. I decided, as I typically did, to leave my grandmother’s house—which happened to be my house (and at various points in time, every family member’s house)—on Vanhook Street (as it was named then) to my Aunt Arlene’s house directly around the corner. We lived in a neighborhood where youth played outside often, where homes were literal camping grounds for neighborhood children, where fights broke out and brought everyone to their porches, where “posses” were family and formed because of boredom, and where one might receive love as easily as s/he did bullying. Drugs, like other urban spaces, had a stronghold on our neighborhood. I assume that’s the reason that our police took to our neighborhood as if it were a war zone where civilians figured in their skewed imaginations as either the drug user or pusher. Most forgot, I assume, that they too had family in our small city who just as easily matched their stereotypes given that most of the presumed “shining shields” were from the same hood that they had begun to terrorize. I digress….but, not really.
I walked elatedly as I turned the corner of the street where my Aunt’s house was located—adorning my fresh kicks, rocking trendy gear, and flaunting my flashy herringbone necklace with matching bracelet. I’ve always had a penchant for nice clothes and sneakers even if I could not really afford them. So, I would clean my sneakers with a toothbrush and iron my clothes as if I worked at a professional dry cleaning service. I understood, honestly, the lure that pulled other young brothers into a fast-paced life of drugs and money: even while I witnessed the lives of those that I love being wrecked by drugs, I desired to live the “Rap City” life (at least wear the clothes that rappers were wearing in the videos) every day. But, I was lured by my dreams of something better and books instead; though, I managed to live into “street” fantasies every now and then. But, my black male body—adorning fresh kicks, rocking trendy gear, flaunting flashy herringbones—remained a point of surveillance because of its seeming displacement from the “set” (read, drug corners). I assume.
A city of Camden cop car turned the opposite corner as I walked passing young and not-so-young black males on the corner. The car increasingly picked up speed as it moved down the street in the direction I walked. I walked to my aunt’s house often, practically lived there, and had my share of eyewitness accounts of police happenings on the block. So, I expected there to be nothing new but the mundane emergency response to some neighbor’s call. The car moved quickly unto the sidewalk. I was surprised considering that there wasn’t anyone walking on that part of the block but me. The black cop jumped out of the car and screamed words that I still don’t remember to this day–lthough, he mentioned something about “look out boys”–because I was in shock as my arm (the same arm that I would typically use to write essays in my advanced English courses, the same arm that I would use to place money in the hands of bus drivers when traveling downtown to take college-level classes at Camden County even while a high schooler, the same arm that I used to make silkscreen t-shirts as part of my summer youth employment job) was violently placed behind my back as if the black cop wanted to break my arm as well as my spirit. I could see my aunt’s boyfriend, Big Sam, running down the street and feared that the black cop would turn from me and beat the black man coming his way. But, he didn’t. He threw me in the back of the car and was unaware that I was a student in Camden High’s IPLE (Institute for Political and Legal Education) where Coach Hanson had taught us about Miranda rights and what happens when our law enforcement officers break the law by failing to recite them. I am certain he was unaware of this fact, because I matched his image of the public enemy: black, male, and hood. So, he drove away without reading my rights. He angrily asked, as he drove, my name to which I gave him none….my birthdate to which I responded by asking him for his ID number…my purpose for walking the street to which I asserted “walking to my aunt’s house.” Shoulder hurting and spirit broken, I sat in the back terrified for my life, and, for a second, the life of every black male in an America that still images us as terrorist..an America where black men see each other as enemies.
Sam finally caught up with us on Atlantic Avenue, which is about seven minutes away-by car-from where I was initially picked up. I am certain that the black cop would have rather me walk back home (or worse, limp) if he had his choice. Sam commenced his appeal: he’s a good kid, an “A” student, don’t mess with anybody, ain’t never sold drugs, going places. I sat in the back of the locked police car pissed as hell and sad to the point of tears. He eventually let me go, but his hands are still felt on my arm and the pain is still very real in my shoulder. Even as I write this I feel the need to cry: for the brother who couldn’t see me…or himself in me and for those who are innocent victims of police brutality whether they are guilty of committing crimes or not.
This is for Jordan Miles! And, while my tears might have been the result of a broken spirit then, I cry tears of righteous indignation in solidarity with those who stand against the machinations of a police state today.