The lights on the patrol car pulsed in the twilight, painting the interior of the car and its contents. Red. Blue. Red. Blue. “I’m gonna need to see your license and registration.” The evening’s humidity was sticky; it grabbed at me. My heart beat faster; the blood pumped on overdrive; perspiration collected. Fight or flight? Dunno. My thoughts were near panicked. How do I survive this situation?
The stressor chemicals dropped from their tanks, emptying themselves into my blood stream, and traveled to my brain. My fear was amp’ed. An immediate reaction to a situation where so many Black men had fatally, fallen victim. I know all the stories. Fortunately, I had just enough wits about me to talk myself down. Play this cool and hopefully you can walk away from this. Be cool.
“What are you doing in this neighborhood?!”
“Who are you visiting?!”
“What’s their address?!”
The officer shot off the questions in rapid fire succession. He was over six feet tall; a monstrous bear of a man. He wore glasses. His head held a basic haircut, projecting what I assume was his perception of an image of how an Everyman of the community ought to appear. His hand on his gun; eyes intense; perspiration collected. His mind assessing; eyes taking aim.
As is standard procedure, he kept his hand on the grip of his gun. The knowing didn’t make me any more comfortable than not knowing this bit of information. I just wanted to diffuse the tension.
The stressor chemicals dropped from their tanks; emptying themselves into his blood stream and traveled to his brain. I looked him in his eyes and answered his questions, one by one. Wrong place, right time; wrong time, right place; right or wrong?
Regardless of the consequences, I found myself back in front of a bullet. A place I thought I had escaped once I slid my way through the gap in the fence that allowed for a restricted view on a better life. The missing boards, having been pried off, lay on their side with the book spines facing outward; stiff with their title lettering in tact. Most of us huddle inside the fence, oblivious, far from it’s borders, never questioning it’s presence or it’s purpose. A construct designed to keep us in bliss or make us accessible?
The bullet, always hung just over the shoulder, ever present when I changed city buses, took ill advised shortcuts through alleys, and turned the key to let myself into the safety of my home. I dodged it on the street corners of city streets on inopportune times that were the right moments to catch a bullet.
I grew up along the borders of a zip code where one in two Black men know the inner workings of the criminal justice system; spending a lot of time there with the Sun on my face, riding bikes, skate boarding, and hooping. We occupied our time with showtime Lakers pick up games, Isiah crossovers, and Marino arms; parting the streets when traffic came through.
I graduated from the rough edges that outlined that portion of the city, where the bullet stalked behind boarded up homes, bald and dusty lawns with rusty tricycles and plastic swimming pools. Where the natives lived out their sugar coated, diabetic days, living with high blood pressure and sorrow, dreaming on a better tomorrow. It’s the year 2016, but we are still eating the poor parts of a diet. Instead of left over pig intestines we dine on engineered processed foods. No blood can be found above the doors to this place, our community, our home. Death pays a visit to each. What the bullet doesn’t devour Death claims by disease.
“I’m gonna need you to step out of the car!” My heart raced as I stepped out from behind the steering wheel.
“Is there a problem officer?”
“Shut up! When I need you to talk, I’ll tell you!”
I graduated from a masters degree program, as well from the Class of Twenty-Five, thanks to a recent birthday. Twenty five is the age at which my survivability increased as I was no longer a member of a club to be a prime suspect or the victim of a homicide. Each year, on their respective anniversaries, we drop a kangol on the spot where my cousin fell silent and remember the street where a friend was paralyzed by the bullet. Angel and devil alike, the bullet consumes all. With my life, mostly in front of me, my outlook was positive.
I thought I was a safe distance away from the bullet; the jungle’s top predator. But here I was again, staring into the darkness of a GLOCK. Despite my best efforts, this situation had escalated. If it is capable of appreciating a bit of irony, it appears life is not without a perverse sense of humor. I had now become a member of another demographic that also had a high rate of mortality – Black males interacting with police.
I could hear the bullet whispering from inside the barrel. You were always mine to have. Go ahead! Fly, Black man fly!
“When one is oppressed, we are all oppressed.”
by malakhai jones
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