The Don Imus controversy a while back brought racial discrimination into the national conversation. But for many African-Americans like me it dug up a lot of deep, suppressed memories of hateful things that have been said and done to us over the years. Things we thought we had moved past but came screaming back like a freight train into our lives again.
For me, it was the George Zimmerman trial that sparked my memory. As a vice president in a national news division, I watched the trial through an objective lens my eyes have long been trained to look through. However at the end of the trial, those long suppressed memories made an unwelcomed hello.
I grew up in a military family and we always lived in middle class neighborhoods. I was an honor student in high school as well as a student athlete running track. I even had an after-school job to earn spending money. That said, twice as a teen, I ended up looking down the barrel of police guns for no other reason that I happened to be a black teenager. I had completely forgotten about these incidents but the Zimmerman verdict opened that door again.
The first time, I was merely waiting for a bus to go to my job. Suddenly two California Highway Patrol vehicles jumped over the concrete middle island and they came screaming to a halt on either side of me kicking up a huge cloud of dust.
My first instinct was to run away but before I could figure out how to handle this, an officer from each car jumped out with handguns pointed at me, screaming for me to put my hands up and get down on the ground.
I started to ask what was going on, but they were having none of it and forcibly pushed me down into the dirt making my work clothes a filthy mess. They then asked me if I was the name of someone they were looking for. I told them no and they demanded ID. I did not have a driver’s license yet but fortunately I did have a picture ID from work. If I had not had that ID, I would have surely ended up in jail. After they realized they had the wrong guy, they got back in their cars and drove off. No apology, no checking if I was OK, no nothing.
It was the first time I came to realize that being black was not just a magnet for racist speech and actions directed at me but also could also cost me my life had I responded to a normal human being’s natural fight or flight instinct.
The second time was while I was in a convenience store, and a voice from behind me told me not to move a muscle. I glanced back and saw a shotgun pointed at the back of my head. I thought I was being robbed and I had an envelope in my coat pocket with money I had just cashed from my paycheck. I was thinking about trying to get it out and hide it in the snack display in front of me.
Had I done that, I would have died on the spot.
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