I was 13 years old.
My mom and I visited my grandma in St Louis. At the arch, I stayed in the rental car as they went to buy gifts. I rummage through the glove compartment bored. Three cops appeared. Guns drawn. They said I was trying to steal the car. From the passenger seat.
I was 17. I got pulled over in front of my parents’ house. They questioned if I really lived there. My ID said I did.
I was 19. Working summer job at a real estate office to pay for college. I matched a description. Three cops. Guns drawn. I was wearing a suit.
I was 23. Pulled over on the freeway. Officers said I smelled of alcohol. How can they smell anything from outside the car? Got a ticket for tinted windows. “I gotta get you for something.”
24. Standing outside Starbucks, my ex raised her voice at me. Not argumentative. I just didn’t hear what she said. Police came because witness said I was threatening her safety. I was asked to leave the premises or be arrested for trespassing.
25. Airport police said I matched suspect. Wrong guy. Detained 4 hours. Missed my flight.
26-30. Pulled over 14 times. Questions ranged from “is that your car” to “we need to search the vehicle, do you have drugs?” Half the time they only asked for my driver’s license to check if I had warrants. Never received a traffic ticket.
They ask questions.
I’m still alive.
Sometimes I look at pictures from when I was a kid and feel joy. Other times melancholy. Then there are times when I see photos and wonder why others saw danger, a threat, a menace to society, when I was just writing music, building computers, or going to school.
And I think about the fear my parents felt when I shared with them moments like these, no where near my most fearful with law enforcement, and how they might have thought something as simple as me going down the street to visit friends would be the last time they ever saw me.
And then I think about how law enforcement treat young black kids today, and I understand.
I don’t have the luxury not to.