“If you haven’t done anything, then you have nothing to worry about.”
Right. In a perfect world that would be great. Oh sorry. Let me explain. Growing up as a black male, I have heard non-black males say that exact same thing to me. It is in reference to cops harassing black males. Ideally, that quote is correct. If you haven’t broken the law, you should not fear the police. You should see them as your friends. An organization that is out there to serve and protect us. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The following is one account of my run-ins with police officers.
My first major incident happened in 2002. I was at college and was studying for final exams which were in two days. I was a 19 year old freshman. It was approximately 1:45am. I was rather hungry, so I ordered a pizza. I paid for it over the phone with my credit card. I had done this many times before, so it was nothing new. Because I lived in a not so nice area of the campus, the pizza delivery guys wouldn’t actually come up to the room. We would have to go down and meet them on the street. But like I said, this was nothing new. They told me that the delivery time would be about 45 minutes. So while I waited, I watched TV, played a game on my computer, and went to the bathroom. I took about 30 seconds in the bathroom. At 2:30am, I heard a knock at my door.
So like I said before, the pizza delivery guys would never come to my door. So I was extremely surprised that this pizza guy came to my door. I looked out the peep hole and to my surprise was two university police officers standing on the other side. Confused, I opened the door. They asked me where I had been in the past 20 minutes. I shared with them the lackluster night that I was having and told then them that I was waiting for the pizza guy to call me so I could meet him and get my pizza. The two police officers looked at each other and then told me that somebody had taken the pizza from the delivery guy. I told them that I had been waiting in my room this whole time.
The two police officers leave for about two minutes, then come back to my door. They tell me to get some shoes on because they want to ask my some questions down at the station. I said sure. So they escort me down the stairs, out the door, and finally out to the courtyard. In the courtyard is a large crowd of students. You see, they were all attracted to the two police cars that were illegally parked in the courtyard with their lights flashing. They then tell me that I have the right to remain silent and read me my rights. Confused, I asked if I was under arrest. They told me not yet. Then they handcuffed me and put me in their car. I then see them talk to a man who I now know is the pizza guy. I see him shake his head yes. They get in the car, and speed down the street to the police station.
We arrive at the police station and I am taken to an interrogation room. They take my handcuffs off so I can write a statement of what I was doing that night. They then ask me to verbally say what I did that night. Scared, the officers then handcuff me to the chair. I know they were scared because one officer said “I have to handcuff this guy, I’m not used to suspects not being handcuffed.” They then call in the investigator. He asks me for my story again. So again, I tell him. Now, what you guys probably don’t know about me is that I am very mild mannered. I mean, I stay calm in most situations. In fact, my personality served me well when I was an EMT on an ambulance. But I digress.
So during this, what is now an interrogation, I remain calm. The investigator tells me that I am lying. He instructs me to “tell the truth”. I tell him the truth…again. Again, he tells me that I’m lying. Then tells me that they not only have me on camera, but they have my accomplice in the other room. And of course my accomplice said that I did it. I asked to see the video. His answer was, that’s official evidence and I can’t show you. I was questioned for about four hours. The entire time telling him that I not only didn’t take the pizza, but I also paid for it on the phone with my credit card.
They then asked if they could search my room. Not having anything to hide, I consented. They searched my room looking for pizza boxes I guess. And of course they find nothing. They then take me back to the police station to question me for another three hours. The entire time maintaining my innocence. I then ask the investigator if I can ask him a question. He responds with: “This isn’t your place to ask questions!” I just shake my head. I was going to ask him a very simple question: If I was going to swipe the pizza from the pizza guy, why would I pay for it first?
So I then sit there for 45 more minutes. This time by myself in the interrogation room handcuffed. The officers were all fighting about who was going to transfer me to the country jail. Nobody wanted too because their shift was coming to an end. So they waited for a person from the morning shift to come. On the way to the county jail, I ask this new officer if I can ask him a question. He says, “Sure”. I then ask, “If I was going to swipe the pizza from the pizza guy, why would I pay for it first with my credit card?” He makes this confused look on his face and then radios in to the police station. He says, “Yeah this guy I’m transporting says he paid for the pizza.” That’s it though. You see, I already told them that I paid. They even made a copy of my credit card. They didn’t care though. So we arrive at the county jail.
Seeing this place, two thoughts go through my head. The first thought was: I’m gonna wake up from this dream at any time. The second thought was: I’m gonna get raped.
Jail isn’t like they show on TV shows. The cells weren’t these squares with bars around them and an officer just outside the cells. This place was just like the show on HBO called “OZ”. Exactly like it. I had to change into a blue jail uniform. But that was after I was strip searched and made to take a shower in front of a large black guard. And I kid you not, this guy had the nerve to say “You missed a spot.”
To make a long story short, I was charged with felony robbery by sudden snatching without fire. Yeah, that’s a real charge. And it’s punishable with up to 15 years in prison. A few days later, I saw the judge, and was released on a $1000 bond. You see the judge that I saw had a problem with the case. She said that I didn’t even match the description of the man that the pizza guy gave. Three months later, the state decided to drop the charges. I then then had to go through the process of expunging the arrest from my record. $2500.00 went to my lawyer as well. If you think about this whole story, you realize that I was actually the one that was robbed. You see, the pizza company charged my credit card $11.79 for the pizza. I never received the pizza. Ridiculous. But at least I wasn’t raped in case you were wondering.
Was race a factor in this? I’m not sure. But it made me grow up and mature much faster than a normal 19 year old kid. Being stripped searched does that. And it also let me know that we are guilty until proven innocent. But this is just one of many stories.