It was the winter of 1998 on a Friday night. 16 years old at the time, I had just finished working my after-school job at a midtown law firm and decided to explore NYC’s gay scene – something I had never done before. I told my parents that I was going to hang out with my “girlfriend” but in reality, I wanted to explore the person I knew I was inside but could not express verbally to my loved ones, friends, or colleagues. I was excited, scared at the same token, and very anxious to meet people that identified like my inner self – GAY. But upon departing the train, I was met by a police officer that drew a pistol to my head in New York City’s West Village.
Police Officer: “Freeze, do not move. Where is your gun?”
Me: “I don’t have a gun”
Police Officer: “Is this the black guy that robbed you?
Two White Gay Men: (without even looking directly at me) “Yes, that is him. That’s the black guy that robbed us. He had a gun and screamed homophobic words to us”
Police Officer: “We got him. Let’s take him in”
I was transported to the police station where I was questioned for hours without any water or access to my family, friends, or colleagues. The police officers informed me that I should “just admit you did it, tell us where your gun is located, and who helped you, and we will let you go.” I told the police officers that I had just finished work in midtown Manhattan and had traveled alone on the train to the West Village to hang out. I asked to call my employer but was denied. The police officer stated that when I was ready to admit the truth that they would let me go home. but until then I would be hanging out in the cell.
As I sat in the cell, I thought to myself: What did I do to deserve this? I was a good kid. I did well in school, started a student government for my high school, volunteered, worked at a law firm, and had my eye on college in two years. By many measures, I was a good kid. I happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time — aka I was BLACK in the West Village.
Due to my studies and my experiences working at a law firm, I thought I would invoke language that I had learned from school and my colleagues. I informed the police officers that I had asked to call my employer who were lawyers and I had therefore, evoked counsel. I also stated that I was not given my “one call”, and it was a blatant violation of my rights. Additionally, I had informed the police officers that they had failed to mirandize me. I was then immediately processed, given my right to a call, then transported to central bookings. I would not be released until more than 24 hours later. After a year of back and forth in court, the presiding Judge apologized on behalf of the system for the troubles I had incurred and dismissed the case with prejudice.
More than 20 years later, this memory has resurfaced for me, with the killing of yet another black man in the hands of police. While there have been plenty others prior to the murder of George Floyd, I had still somehow suppressed this memory, because of my hope and dreams that justice will prevail in our great these United States. But this week, my long-buried trauma accelerated to the front of my mind as I was walking my dog Max down a dark road while police were patrolling the same street. I was frightened, scared, and worried that if I made a move that was misperceived that I would be back looking down the barrel of a gun. Perhaps this time I would not be so lucky.
More than 20 years and we have Trayvon Martin, Jonathan Ferrell, Atatiana Jefferson, Jordan Edwards, Amadou Diallo, and countless others. Justice seems nearly impossible when we are dealing with racist structures that automatically presupposes that people of color are guilty until proven innocent. I ask America – what am I to teach my 7 year old son? While I’d like to preserve his youth and innocence, do I hide the shame of America? Do I speak truths to the injustices that continue to haunt black and brown communities? Where do we go from here?
I am grateful that justice prevailed in my case and that I’m here today to tell the story, but I continue to be disgusted by the action of law enforcement – the people that are supposed to protect us are the ones that we are most scared of. I am tired of the BS, and I stand with the civil and peaceful protestors who continue to say enough is enough. When will I not have to worry about being a George Floyd? When will I have to not worry about my 7-year-old Black son Jules living in a society that reacts solely because of his race? I am just sick and tired that we continue to hear and live through the same stories over and over and over again. When will it stop? When will we rise up and see an equitable and just United States of America?
The recent protests are a direct result of the community being tired of inaction. The public has spoken. Change is needed. Racial equity is needed. It is time to dismantle the “House of Racism.” Action is required. While I do not condone looting, I do support the peaceful gathering of people to protest an historically unjust system. But the public is now asking for more than just protest and words – they are asking for justice and change. So, what are concrete actions people can take to change the system?
- Vote – not just in presidential elections but in local elections;
- Stay engage beyond just voting with local, national, and global issues;
- Support organizations and businesses that advance the cause;
- Financially support organizations such as the NAACP that have led the fight for racial equity;
- Work with activists and advocacy organizations to change local, state, and federal laws that disproportionately impact people of color;
- Invest in your community, young people, family, friends, and businesses for positive change;
- Educate oneself on the system and think about your gifts, talents, and abilities and how they can impact change;
- Understand the role of economics in our global world order and think creatively about how to work to dismantle racism in a system fueled by money and wealth, often designed to keep a select few in power;
- Penetrate and work from within the economic system to dismantle It;
- You are the change we need. Use your voice, talent, skills, abilities, and knowledge to be the change you want to see.The power of the movement will be based on you and your ability to push for social, economic, and racial change. Make that change!