This 31-year-old black man intuitively understood the frustrations expressed by Ta-Nehisi Coates (“Reasonable Doubts,” 3/31). Stifling chokeholds, inexplicable car searches, and unexplained traffic stops have made encounters with Officer Friendly the absolutely most terrifying moments of my life. Because I don’t want to share the tragic fates of Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond, and the many, many, many other persons of color whose cases do not make the 6 o’clock news, I learned quickly how to minimize the chances of an, um, “escalation.” Hands visible at all times, move really, really, really slowly, turn on an interior light if necessary, repeat the word “sir” or “ma’am” ad nauseam, and so on. Because I have a healthy interest in my own preservation, I consider my excessive politeness, no matter how baseless these random stops are, to be a small price to pay for the continued gift of life.
I intellectually understand that the great majority of police officers are honest public servants doing a thankless job that I myself would never want. Because I hate to be stereotyped myself, I try to approach each encounter with the assumption (hope?) that the approaching police officer is not an undercover Mark Fuhrman with an itchy trigger finger. I pray that the approaching officers will not shoot first and ask questions later, plant “evidence,” or beat me into a bloody pulp. As recent events in New York, Los Angeles, and other locales continue to demonstrate, such lawless mayhem happens in depressingly regular fashion.
By any account, I am, and have always been, a straight arrow: a tax-paying, community-volunteering, law-abiding historical editor about to complete a Ph.D. in history. My multiple identities also include being a drug virgin, a bad poet, and a beloved son, grandson, nephew, cousin, godfather, brother, and friend. Yet some police officers have routinely reduced me and many others who look like me to a negative stereotype in danger of being killed, falsely imprisoned, or permanently maimed. I write this letter with the knowledge of past and present experience, not with hyperbole or a victim complex.
Grace Drucker (The Mail, 4/7), please do not invalidate the past and present experiences of Coates, me, and other persons of color with ignorant and arrogant dismissals. Please do not suggest that we are somehow asking for our own potential death because of some supposed attitude problem. Walk a mile in my shoes and your tune would surely change—quick, fast, and in a hurry!