Man, it's hot. Damn hot. It's dark—almost 9:30 p.m.—and still a sultry 92 F. So much for cooler by the lake tonight. No breeze, no nothing.
This is the kind of heat that drives people without air conditioning out to their stoops, fanning their faces and praying for a breeze, because it's just too hot in the apartment—even with fans on full blast.
It's the kind of heat that can make people irritable. Don't piss me off in this kinda heat: I might snap on you for real!
Like tonight. I had just walked the dog down the street and back. My shirt had a growing sweat stain around the neckline. My face was perspiring freely in the humidity. I was standing just outside the courtyard gate, chatting with my downstairs neighbor Veronique*. She was sitting on the stoop in the doorway next to our courtyard. I knew they didn't have air conditioning.
They're moving soon. The landlord had been giving them a hard time, but had let up recently, probably because it's almost the end of the month. That's what we were talking about. We idly watched her young son run down the sidewalk to the alley and then try to climb up the side of the building, without much success.
"Get back here, boy!" yelled my neighbor's sister, who was leaning against their car, fanning herself. She's a big girl, bulging out of her shorts and tank top with a sheen to her face brought on by the heat. Little Anthony* ambled back, slowly.
Image courtesy of Google Maps. ©2012 Google
On this hot July evening, my neighbor was sitting in
the doorway stoop next to the courtyard when she was
ordered to 'spread 'em' by police.
We were comfortable with one another, in spite of the heat. Veronique and I had chatted many times over the past year. Although the neighbor below them wouldn't agree (two boys under the age of 9 can make a LOT of noise when you live below them), I'm sorry to see them go. Veronique is a nice person. She does the best she can as a single mom to provide for her special needs children. She has taken in her sister more than once when her sister had no place else to go. Her grown daughter (they look so much alike I mistook the daughter for my neighbor when I first met her) has stayed there off and on and helped with the boys. But Veronique is the one who takes care of things. She is there for her family.
So, we were all surprised when the Chicago police SUV pulled up on the wrong side of the street and a young, blonde police woman jumped out from the driver's side and said to my neighbor, imperatively, "Get over here!"
Perplexed, Veronique slowly got up from the stoop and walked toward the officer. "What?" she said. "What's wrong?" Her young son looked on from the shadows, not sure what to think.
Another police officer emerged from the passenger side and came around the front of the truck to assist.
"Put your hands up on top of the car and be quiet," the female officer said, irritation beginning to show in her voice.
"What did I do?" Veronique asked. "What's going on?"
A fair question, I thought, as I watched the police officer begin to frisk my friend.
"This woman is my neighbor. We live in this building. We were just talking," I said. "What's the problem?"
Neither officer answered me. I could hear Veronique's irritation grow. "My son is standing right there. We weren't doing anything!" she exclaimed. The female officer pulled out Veronique's shirt, looked beneath and checked around the waistband of her pants. My neighbor indignantly pulled it back down over her pants, protesting the entire time. I could feel my own irritation rising at how my neighbor was being treated.
When Veronique asked again what she was being stopped for, the cop lady shouted back something like, If you would just shut up and let me do my damn job, I'll tell you in a minute! My neighbor's sister and I were both trying to deescalate Veronique. She was growing understandably upset at being ordered to stand there and be frisked—in front of her child—for no apparent reason!
By this time her son had begun to cry. Another one of my neighbors had stopped by a few minutes after I had joined them. He was standing with the boy, his arm crossed over the child's chest while the boy quietly sobbed, watching his mother growing more and more upset.
Veronique was visibly agitated at this point as she suffered the indignity of being searched with her son looking on. Her sister pleaded with her to remain calm.
"Man! It really sucks when you can't sit on your own stoop when it's hot out without getting harassed," I said. "This isn't even 'walking while black.' It's 'sitting around while black.'"
And just as quickly as it started, the ordeal was over. An unmarked police car had pulled up alongside the SUV and another SUV appeared seemingly out of nowhere at the corner.
Finding nothing on either of my neighbors, they were released. Do you want to know why we stopped you? the cop lady asked.
Veronique and the cop lady were both turned away from me. All I heard was something about a pizza delivery guy had called the police.
The driver mentioned had emerged from the building a couple of minutes after I had arrived. I jokingly asked him if he had any freebies. No, he said, but I can give you a menu. I declined. I didn't know this restaurant and already had my favorite pizza places. He offered me a menu again, shrugged, got in his car and left about 5 or 10 minutes before the police arrived.
"What?" I asked Veronique. The police officers were still there.
She told me the delivery guy told police that someone vaguely fitting Veronique's description had offered to sell him cocaine while he was making his delivery. The other cop, an Asian man in his 20s, assured Veronique and her sister that they were just doing their jobs, that she "fit the description." I heard him say something about the shirt of the suspect being pink. Veronique's tank top looked off-white under the streetlights.
Seriously? That's why my neighbor was detained and frisked? Did that justify them threatening, yelling and making a little boy cry in fear? Just doing their jobs?
Sitting around while black is how I saw it. I was left feeling if the scenario had taken place in a different neighborhood, and if the suspect had been white, police would have approached the suspect very differently. Just sayin'.
In this kind of heat, tempers can definitely flare. But even if I had been approached in the middle of February and frisked and treated as disrespectfully as my neighbor was, I'm pretty sure I'd still be pissed.
*Not the real name