Thousands of people across the nation are fed up with the ways the police interact with minorities, specifically with young black men. The deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice have been felt through every corner of this country and by people of all races and ethnicities. Black men being murdered by police in this country is no shock to many and the fact that these cops are not being indicted for the most part is not a surprise either. Interactions with the police in Black and Latino communities has left and continues to leave a huge blanket of distrust. The residents of these neighborhoods do not feel safe or protected by these police officers. Due to the fact that a man of color can be stopped at any moment in any neighborhood for no reason leaves a permanent feeling of paranoia. It is like having a magnet on you at all times. Police tactics should be designed to make the public, in which they serve, feel safe not angry, scared, and full of distrust.
In light of all that happens in poor neighborhoods, with the history of police, gang, and drug violence many people simply cannot understand how and why men of color think the way they do towards cops and basically anyone that is not from where they are from. Although the circumstances are worse in poor ethnic neighborhoods than others, the individual still must have a sense of self-respect and a desire to be better and do better. However, when holding an individual to an individualistic ideology, you need to not oversee the structural barriers these people face on a day to day basis. The structural elements which built the “hood” and the “ratchet mindset” goes deeper than a few individuals choosing to act unruly or live in bad conditions. Many outsiders that are not affected cannot understand the life these people live.
This “Day In My Shoes” piece is an insight of the much needed strategies men of color go through daily. Many are so use to certain procedures that they overlook what they are doing and for what reason. But the day begins as so:
After waking up and doing my morning stretch, I begin to think about the things I need to get done, such as homework, what professors to speak to and in other cases what my breakfast meal should be. After eating I begin to look for what clothes I should wear for the day. I can’t pick an outfit that looks too regular because I may be categorized as some of those guys outside, because to others those guys outside are not looked to be the “brightest” and “safest” to be around. I have to make sure my pants aren’t too low otherwise I may be perceived as a thug. It has been 20 minutes and I finally chose to wear slim fitted jeans with boots from J.Crew while wearing a lamb’s wool sweater. I am now ready to take on the world, well so I think.
After my grandmother repeatedly tells me not to sag my pants outside because the cops will watch me and after she tells me not to jump the turnstile (even though I always have an unlimited) — I am now outside and I am walking down my Flatbush block, dodging the trash on the ground because there is not one trash can on the street. I’m walking down my gentrified block past a couple West Indian food joints and a Dominican spot, then past an “organic” supermarket. Knowing that poorer people want to eat healthier, but don’t live in areas that cater to the “organic” customer bothers me. In many cases, the organic customer has been stereotyped to be a white individual as people tend to group them with healthier eating habits. These shops began popping up when white people moved in by the dozens over the past four years.
As I am coming up by a group of cops, I remember to not make sudden movements near them or look around too much. I have always been told they will think you are up to nothing good if they see you looking around too much. They might actually already be occupied with a young man, as they usually are. As I head to school I am organically carrying out these strategic moves without any thought process, all in the name of “surviving”.
I reach school where I am new and do not know many people. First impressions are paramount in a new environment, as they have the power to diminish any stereotypes or preconceived notions one may have of you beforehand. I have to make sure not to be too loud or look too angry or act like I don’t belong. Every interaction is felt to be an interview as I am always seeking to convince the other converser that I am a person first with goals and that I have the ability to work hard for what I want. All my life I have been told with great emphasis, the importance of articulating and speaking like you want to go somewhere in life. People will judge you off the way you speak, especially if you are a person of color. These words have stuck with me my whole life and sometimes I can still speak “well” and be considered to be like “those” guys outside or like the “wannabe white kid” (whatever that means).
While in a classroom, I get thoughts of participating but many automatically assume I may have nothing much to say because silence may be perceived as ‘acting too cool’. So even in the classroom some people of color may feel the need to participate due to the fact that they are seen as academic slackers in this society.
As I leave the ever so diverse Harlem neighborhood, night falls quickly and I must hurry to catch a train home. Then I remember I shouldn’t run, instead I should speed walk. The fear that I may be stopped by the police for running goes through my mind. In the past, I have seen guys be stopped just for running, because they were seen as a criminal running from a crime. I don’t want that, so I speed walk and as I enter the train I follow the same procedures going home as I did coming to school.
Many of us carry out our days with strategies to protect us from the harassment of police officers so well, that it becomes a part of our everyday movements. Even though my neighborhood is becoming more gentrified, minorities are still targeted more and it begins to feel like the people being protected are the new comers. The unrest that unfolded in this country these past few months are people demonstrating their feelings toward the system and how it strips down people of color every day, to the point where a constant play of strategies is needed in order for self-protection.
I am confident that there are great cops but this “Day In My Shoes” was just my story about the mindset I developed from what I have seen and experienced as a young man in this structuralized environment in which we all reside.