An afternoon while waiting for the bus to the placita, I was sat on a stairway to a vacant home—my hair was long then, pulled back in a pony tail and while I don’t remember exactly what I was wearing, I cannot imagine it was anything other than shorts and a tee shirt.
I’d been waiting for ten or fifteen minutes when a police vehicle pulled up alongside the curb. An officer stepped out of his car and approached me. For a moment, I thought he was going up to the house. Instead, he became all I could see. Asked questions. Who are you? What are you doing here? How long have you been here? Told me there’d been robberies in the neighborhood. Know anything about that?
I began to shift on the steps. It felt like a joke at first like he was having a little fun. But he never cracked a smile. Instead, he asked for identification and went back to his car.
Sitting impatiently and knowing my bus was a few minutes away, I wondered what made me look so suspicious. The officer didn’t come back for some time. As the bus arrived at my stop, allowing passengers off, the driver glared a suspicious look, as did the passengers who were looking through windowpanes, their eyes shifting from the officer’s car to me.
Explosions started in the pit of my stomach. Embarrassment, fear and disappointment twisting into anger because of the officer’s actions and indifference.
I never told my parents about that afternoon. How I missed the bus—gritted my teeth and walked the mile downtown to catch my transfer. Or about feeling so angry and depleted. I never told anyone. I put its discomfort out of my mind.
Until Trayvon Martin.
As a brown kid from a mostly brown town, I rarely thought about race. I felt insulated. Safe. Until that summer afternoon, I hadn't considered my skin color as part of any profile that would be used against me. Looking into the mirror, I hadn’t seen a suspicious person looking back. After, I found myself asking who had?
No matter how much I try to anticipant and prevent the appearance of misbehavior, I will never be able to predict what others find suspicious. What behavior or combination of actions, appearance, race, gender and circumstance dictate it.
My experience cannot compare to Trayvon’s tragic story or the similar experiences of black and brown-skinned men that end in unjust circumstances leading to prison or death.
But I cannot deny its after effects: how mistrusting I felt of police officers, how observant I became of surroundings as I walked along streets after dark, how I tried to prevent the mere appearance of impropriety. And how, at times, it made me feel shame for who I was.
Image was originally posted to Flickr by jamesfischer at http://flickr.com/photos/77971723@N00/1738722922.