A couple of weeks ago, I asked my mentee Jaime Bautista, the school’s valedictorian, to write a reflection about his new perspective of the world since he started working while in high school. Unfortunately, Monday night after work, Jaime texted me that he had this ugly run in with two Chicago police officers. While not all cops are bad, these unjustified acts of victimization by some cops ruin any attempts to establish trust between cops and communities of color. Sadly, I thought of my own son who turns ten on Saturday. I know I’ll have to talk to him about what to do whenever he interacts with cops.
I admire Jaime even more for having the courage to tell his story–a story too many young men of color continue to tell.
After a long day of work on Monday night, I decided to go ask one of my female friend’s parents to let her go to prom with me. I waited for her text to go in her home while I was parked on the side of her house. I was confident enough to ask her dad but nervous because I didn’t know him. I wanted to ask her dad to let her go to prom with me because she’s one year younger than me (she’s 16). My parents raised me to ask permission to do things. I wanted her father to know me. I wanted to gain his trust.
I didn’t realize the end of my car was near a fire hydrant. But she messaged me to not come in because she just fought with her dad. I texted “What happened?” I wanted to find out before I left. Then, I looked in my side mirror and saw a white van pull up. It was plain with no markings and looked suspicious.
I couldn’t see it well because it was dark outside but the two guys in the front pulled up next to me and flashed their flashlights at me back and forth in a circular motion. They did this for a minute and continued with no other actions. I thought about what my older brother told me. He said gangbangers would rob people by distracting them with flashlights and come from behind and pull a gun on them. So I reversed and sped off. This was by 5200 and South Albany, a Southwest side neighborhood known to have a lot of gang activity.
I went down a couple blocks and the van was following me. With flashlights still flashing at me, I was like “What are these idiots doing flashing at me? ” Next thing I know, I’m two blocks from my house and the van puts on its sirens and blue lights. I pulled to the side and then the two cops jumped out of the van. One cop said, “Get the fuck out the car!”
From inside the car, I said, “Can I see your badge?”
He pointed to the star on his left shoulder and said, “This is my fuckin’ badge you idiot.”
He reached in my car, turned off the ignition, opened the door and grabbed me. “You’re getting out,” he said.
I was still trying to figure out if they were real cops or not in this unmarked van. They were Caucasian. They shoved me against their car. I was fucking scared cause they were shoving me hard. One of the officers said I was going to court and I replied, “I didn’t know . . . I thought . . . ” And he started saying, ” You’re stupid as hell for leaving! You’re going to court!”
They said I was stupid for leaving when they flashed their lights at me. “What’s wrong with you, Kid? Are you high? Are you drunk?” They got in my face: “In my 10 years of experience, I never had a dumb ass try to get away from me.”
I said I didn’t know and I was a good kid and they started bashing me about how I could be a murderer and saying “I’m not your fuckin’ friend. I don’t know you.” And “Shut the fuck up because you’re getting yourself in trouble.”
One cop asked, “Why did you leave?”
I said, “I thought you were some gangbangers doing stupid things.”
They said, “Don’t you see the blue lights, you idiot? What type of people have these?”
I noticed the blue lights but they were on the side of the van. I hadn’t noticed them before. I stayed quiet and they took my phone and wallet and searched my whole car and didn’t find anything. One cop checked my pockets. The other one searched my car.
I began to tear up and the officer told me, “Why the fuck are you crying?! Man the fuck up! You’re a man!”
What they didn’t know was that I was already nervous before they confronted me because I was going to walk into my friend’s house and ask her father, who I never met before, to let her go out with me.
They continued to swear at me until they realized I didn’t have anything on me and I was telling the truth. They began to explain that I was going to court for running the stops signs but as soon as I said, “I thought you guys were gangbangers and you didn’t have any markings in your car and you guys didn’t turn on your blue lights until . . .” they stopped me mid-sentenced and told me, “What kind of gangbangers have blue lights like ours!”
I guess they saw my apron from work and since they didn’t find anything in the car, they told me to relax because I was shaking. They said they use that van so people don’t know they’re cops. And that next time I see a car like that, I should know.
I wanted to say, “Why didn’t you turn on your lights when I was at the fire hydrant?” Or “Why didn’t they come out of the van?” But I was scared that they would start to yell at me again. The situation had calmed down at this point.
One cop kinda joking said, “Don’t tell your friends about this” and that I was lucky he liked the grocery store where I worked.
They left. I got back into my car and sat there. I began to tear up and thought to myself, “Did that really just happen?”
Before this, I got pulled over twice for speeding. The officers were polite and respectful. I returned the respect.
I grabbed my phone and saw the female texted me. “I’m sorry that I made you come over here.” I texted her what happened. She apologized for making me go to her house. I said I didn’t want to talk about it anymore and drove home.
I haven’t told my parents because I don’t want to lose my new independence of driving myself to and from work. I’m afraid they’ll stop letting me use the car and drive me instead.
I talked to the female recently. But I haven’t brought up going to prom.
No tickets were issued by the cops. This fall, Jaime Bautista will attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He’ll major in actuarial science, the mathematical and statistical method of assessing risk in insurance, finance, and other fields.
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