The Unrealistic and False Expectations of a Sensible: “Stop and Frisk” Conversation.

(Or, you just don’t know, what you don’t know)


           The inherent problem is that people like Mr. Blumberg (NYC mayor) and Mr. Kelly (NYC police commissioner) have no concept of the racial history of the NYPD in relationship to the Black community; they also don’t have an understanding of the psychology of racial assumptions that are buried deep inside of the heads of most Americans, Black and White. In many ways they are a lot like the White students with whom I attended high school. Outside of a few comedic “characters” behaving in the style of Officer Krupe from West Side Story. The Police truly (in their view) sought to serve and protect them and their community. They were incapable of comprehending a police force that could, and did collapse the distinction between law-abiding citizens and criminals. Unless a member of their community was actually suspected of committing a crime they had nothing but a positive interaction with the NYPD. There was no understanding of my world (as one of the most law abiding teenagers imaginable); where I daily carried my Police Athletic League (PAL) membership card as a way to respond to being stopped, just for being a Black teenager. I once had to play the PAL card when in JHS. A friend and I (being members of the track team) decided to exercise by passing up on riding the bus while walking home from school. Although we clearly understood the standard prohibition that we were now at the age when we could not run in public for any purpose (the reason I was able to identify with a similar scene in the Askia Davis book: Coming of Age in the Hip Hop Generation: Warrior of the Void.) But we naively thought that the factory lined, isolated, (no pedestrians in sight) block of Vanderbilt Ave. between Fulton and Atlantic would serve as a safe area for a “wind-sprint”. The task: “Race to within 20 feet of Atlantic and then stop”. Well, we were half-way down the block when a police car pulled up onto the sidewalk blocking and stopping us in our tracks. The police emerged menacing from the cruiser; “running from something boy’s”; they ask more accusatory, than with the tone of inquiry. Our explanation of “practicing” was not helped by the fact that although we had on sneakers, we also were wearing street clothes; which in those days was made of a tough cloth that seem more suitable for sprinting than fashionable style. Full (with unseen books) book bags probably did not help our case, (“Book bags full with books?”). It also occurred to me that explaining to the officers that I was one of the top track athletes in the city; enrolled in a gifted and talented school program; spent at least 2-3 days a week in church, every week; attended k-young adult Sunday school; collected stamps; performed science experiments, flew kites, played every sport in season; graduated from the cub scouts to the boy scouts where I earned a sash full of merit badges from photography to stamp collecting; practically lived at the Brooklyn Public Library Grand Army Plaza Branch; planned to go to college (this is before I even entered High school);and of course I would never think of breaking any law (fearing the wrath of the tag–team of God and my mother.) Further, I could not invoke a picture of the future for these officers (like some time-traveling Crown Heights version of Dr. Who); where the officers could see my companion in this crises would go on to have a distinguished career in the military, despite being wounded in Vietnam; and my trembling hand now only held steady by a wall would one day hand out thousands of diplomas to graduating seniors, and also shake the hand of the President of the United States. No, our future accomplishments were as useless as our present accomplishments. None of the thoughts of a positive solution, that raced in seconds through my mind; would be able to realistic get us out of this very dangerous situation. I was so scared, and I would never confess this to my mother; that I forgot to pray (I later found out that she prayed daily in an appeal for our moments of forgetting to do so). Would we just end up as the “suspects that will do”, as a solution to some crime for which we had no knowledge of? I then said the words that I felt would be our only hope of getting safely out of this situation. I informed the police officers that we were members of the PAL and knew Officer Howell, the police officer in charge of PAL. “Oh, one of them said; “you two are Howell’s kids”; his tone and their body language softened dramatically. “Well, go ahead, but you guys don’t run through the streets again”. I felt like I had been saved at the last moment in a way that only occurs in fictional stories. I never told my mother or officer Howell about the incident; although I always wanted to thank him for the use of his name. I did not tell them because they both would have reminded me that I was told that I was “too big now” to run, for any reason outside of the track or athletic field. I would continue to be “stopped” (only once being frisked)  from time to time until the last time in 1994 on my own Decatur street block where I was pulled over with the rational/ explanation: “a very expensive car in this neighborhood”. The police officers actually became embarrassed and deeply apologetic when they saw my back seat (as usual, full of books) and my NYCBOE Principal’s Parking Permit. I guessed at some point I stopped being stopped because I just aged out. And until an adolescent Blumberg and Kelly have their childhoods marked, interrupted and wounded by an awareness that their skin color automatically transforms them into suspects; and all of their accomplishments and achievements are secondary to the reality of their race; until who they could be is greatly unimportant then who they are seen as; until (although braking no law) a police car behind their car engages their sense of concern, and not their sense of safety; until they must be on defensive against the criminal elements, and also the police who are sworn to protect them from the same criminals; stop and frisk will make perfect sense, to them.