I was riding my bike across a major street in my neighborhood and began picking up speed as I knew my friend's house was a mere blocks away. I was en route to return a video game he loaned me earlier that week. It was summer, and with plenty of time during summer vacation as a freshman in high school, playing video games and borrowing/sharing them with friends was ideal.
After crossing, I heard a quick siren and a voiceover urging someone to pull over and stop. Wooooooop Wooooooop!! Pull over immediately! I quickly turned back and noticed the officers pulled over on the corner and gesturing for me to return to their vehicle. Slightly confused and partially intrigued, I did. I rode back towards the vehicle where the officers were waiting in the vehicle.
"Hey....", I approached and said.
"Where are you you headed?"
"To... my friend's house..."
"Where is your friend's house?"
"East 85th Street. A few blocks down that way", pointing in the direction I was previously headed.
"Where are you coming from?"
"My house. Right down there, East 91st Street.", I said nervously, pointing beyond their car in the other direction.
"OK. OK.", says the officer in a tone that leads me to believe that my story and responses made sense. In a way to make me know, that he knows, that I'm not lying. Which of course, at the time, was a very, very big deal.
"What do you have under your shirt?", he stated much more forcefully than the questions before.
I reached for the video game I had conveniently (for me at least) tucked in the front part of my shorts. Under my t-shirt. You know, the days before someone ingenuously came up with the idea to add pockets to basketball shorts.
That's all I heard which froze me. I knew those very words from TV shows I've seen too often. I knew what they meant. And I prayed to God that this situation wasn't as serious as it seemed like it was quickly escalating to. I also hope no one on this busy street was looking, or even recognized me in this predicament, one I have no idea why I was in.
I looked up and the officer had his gun drawn. It wasn't directly pointed at me in the manner of me being able to stare down the barrel of his weapon, but enough to startle and scare the you-know-what out of me.
"LIFT. YOUR. SHIRT. SLOWLY!" the officer belted from the passenger seat still with weapon in hand. The other officer, now opening the door on the driver side to make this offensive stance known as he rested one hand over the roof of the car and piercing me with his eyes and forcing me to wonder where exactly his other hand was.
"Uhhhh, yeah, sure."
I did what he said and slowly lifted my shirt revealing the object - Sony's Gameday 99' for PlayStation. Even though I saw his face reveal that the situation was no longer as tense and threatening as he anticipated, I even pulled it out and slowly handed it over to him. He opened it, removed the CD, looked through the casing a bit and then asked if it was a good game.
Again, still a bit shaken up, I managed to say, "Uhhhh, yeah, sure". At this point, I'll agree with anything positive and polite. The other officer then started saying something about his kid and that very game, but at this point, I wanted to just leave the situation. Hoping no one saw this, and looking forward to never being in this situation again.
The officer handed me the game and attempted to put me at ease, possibly due to the potential scarring of the very moment written all over my face.
"We received a a phone call of a robbery of a woman by a young man - same build and same description (gesturing towards me) - who mugged a woman at gun point for her purse and was said to have been seen getting away on a similar bike as the one you're riding."
And I'l never - EVER - forget his next statement to me.
"Unfortunately kid, you're sometimes a suspect when you don't even know you're one".
I rode away that day and carried on with that very incident in my mind. I returned my friend's game, and even returned to my block for a game of football without telling anyone what happened. No one. I kept this incident pretty much to my self sans a few individuals later on in life. Until this day, not even my parents know about this occurring.
During a time where the issue of the young minority males and their continuing inexplicable deaths by police officers are a hot button topic, I am reminded of this very moment that took place when I was a mere fifteen years old. Luckily for me, nothing fatal or rather serious came of my experience.
There are so many angles to look at these situations that become mainstream news with social and political waves. From the outright racism and/or stereotypes that clouds each situation, to the blatant mistrust of minority communities for those who have sworn to protect and serve us all - equally. Even the forgotten perspective of police offers who risk their lives everyday in some of this nation's most dangerous neighborhoods, which only become empathy-filled and hot beds for "activism" when these situations occur. It really is a big mess.
I'm hoping one day, and I'm sure it'll be well after the good Lord calls me home, that the narrative on these issues will be altered. Until then, I'll continue to be baffled, dumbfounded, and heartbroken over these situations with an understanding of what it's like growing up as a young minority male in the inner city, of our law enforcement's daunting job task, the hyperbole that spews from today's "civil rights leaders", and of course, without a doubt, ultimately feeling for the parents and families of the victims.
What that police officer said to me almost fifteen years ago was so right. Oh, so right. You just never know when you're a suspect...it's just unfortunate lately we now don't know when we'll be the next victim as well.