I’m Glad I Wasn’t Black Today

white-privilege

I came home this evening after running a couple of errands to find a half-dozen people at my door. Two or three were uniformed.

Two followed me around back as I parked. Since my girlfriend (let’s call her J) has never so much as jaywalked I figured they had to be after me. No idea why, but the adrenaline was starting to pump.

I’m not going to talk to cops but I can hear what they have to say. It turns out they were looking for a woman named Amanda, whom they had seen coming in and out of my apartment routinely over the past three weeks.

Huh? I work at home. J works at home. We don’t go out much thanks to COVID and at least one of us is almost always here. There hasn’t been anyone in and out of this place, period.

We walked around front where they’re talking to J. One detective asks me can we talk down the sidewalk a ways.

At this point it seems clear I’m not the target. I believe, I guess, that I’m just being helpful. No, I say, we can talk right here – I’ll answer some questions but I won’t be separated from J like we’re crime drama perps.

For maybe five or ten minutes this woman grilled me about this woman named “Amanda,” whom they had pictures of entering and leaving our apartment and parking in our garage. This isn’t possible, so I did what I could to convince her.

(Yeah, I know, I’m already being an idiot. I’ll get to that.)

I said look, this is just wrong. You have pictures of her doing this? Yes, she said, but I don’t have them with me.

I’m being lied to and I know it, but I’m trying to figure out what the fuck is going on. About this time the guy who seems to be running the show – call him Deputy Goatee – comes around the corner, gets the attention of the detective interviewing me, and says “come on, we found it.” The whole retinue follows him off.

“It” turns out to be the correct address. This Amanda person – who I’m told has an outstanding warrant for negligent homicide of a child – apparently lives across the alley.

I go into the living room. J is a wreck. They had been a lot more aggressive with her and had run a good cop/bad cop routine, only with the same cop playing both roles. After initially being nice, he had come back at her with “I don’t believe what you’re saying.” They had used the old “come clean now or it will be really bad for you” line on her, even.

J is the most upstanding person I probably know and has zero context for this. I’m sure she seemed guilty as hell. A cop saying I don’t believe you – that would be like punching her in the gut.

I walk down to the garage. The cops are congregated by the next building. I collect my groceries, close the garage door and come back upstairs, where Dep. Goatee is presenting J with an apology for the mix-up, wrong address, acting on a tip, etc. J gets it – she works for a law enforcement agency herself – but she’s livid about the treatment from the guy who called her a liar. This, btw, is the first I’d heard about that part. And it’s the part where I got very, very mad.

I stepped into the doorway and fielded the apology, calling Dep. Goatee on every bit of bullshit he tried to use.

In particular, I lit him up about the “acting on a tip” thing. They had said – repeatedly – they had photos of Amanda coming and going from our apartment and parking in the garage. This means they’d had surveillance up on us for three weeks.

So when they came to our door, that meant they weren’t acting on a tip, they were acting on their own surveillance. So one of your officers saw this? Well, no, not one of our officers, exactly. A contractor? No. He was pretty flustered by this point.

“It was a … license.”

I have no idea what that means. All I cared about was that I had him cold in either rank ineptitude or a bald-faced lie. I’m not embarrassed about how unpleasant I made the next few minutes for him.

None of this is what mattered the most, though. As I’m unloading on the deputy it occurred to me – innocent person, wrong address – I’m damned lucky I’m not a minority. As incensed as I was – and I was as mad as I’ve been in literally decades – I thought about Breonna Taylor. And I wondered – briefly, but clearly – how differently this all might have gone if J and I had been black.

And I decided to go there.

I told him straight up it’s probably a good thing J and I were white. I wish I had his response on video. What? White? What do mean white? What does that mean? I don’t know what you mean by white, sir. He was full on sputtering.

There isn’t a law enforcement officer alive who wouldn’t have known what I meant. And I imagine just hearing that must have shorted out the prepared speech he was trying to give.

Yes, there is going to be a follow-up conversation. I may well wear a Black Lives Matter t-shirt to it.

But here’s the thing. They didn’t break any rules. As he was careful to explain, every tactic they employed was legal and standard, and he’s right. It was a mistake, although not an honest one. And at a minimum … they upset a couple of respectable white people in one of the nice suburbs south of Denver.

What can I say that won’t be proof of my privilege? Let’s be honest: right now, and in the near future, I get to be privileged white man on parade. I’ll get an audience. I’ll be treated respectfully. They won’t like me, but there will be conversations about how they fucked up and how can they make sure they don’t fuck up again.

I was disoriented and made mistakes, and what can I say that won’t have millions of black and brown Americans shaking their heads and laughing at me. At no point was my life in danger. At no point was I at risk of being railroaded for a crime I didn’t commit.

It was seriously upsetting, but … against the backdrop of 2020 it was as close to nothing as it gets.

All I can say is that as it was all happening I was keenly aware of that privilege and I was conscious of those who don’t enjoy it, and for whom it could all have gone much, much worse.

Two quick footnotes.

1: I’ve never been interrogated by law enforcement, so while I knew “don’t talk to cops” I got played by their approach. I’m not happy with my stupidity. Pro tip, folks: I don’t care what they say to you – do not talk to cops without a lawyer. EVER.

2: If there is a silver lining it’s this. If I have it all pieced together properly, “Amanda” and her family moved in recently. There are two houses across the alley flying Trump/Pence 2020 flags. Hers is one of them.

4 comments

  • It is a good thing you are white. Though that doesn’t always help with the justice system. I have a couple of stories that would boil your blood, and I am a middle class white guy in small town Kansas.

    One involves my son while still in high school going into an abandoned building to do parkour with some friends. Without our knowledge the police took him out of school to the police station, told him if he wrote a letter of apology to the owners of the building that would be it. Then, they turn around and use that letter as a signed confession and press charges. I can tell you it is a pretty helpless feeling when you are going through all that.

    The other is my sister who had the police raid her house looking for meth, she was on a call for work and so she lost her job. She hasn’t done meth in 15 years. All they found was some pot (in a locked box under the bed in her locked bedroom) so they charge her with six counts of child endangerment and dealing. I think they trump up a bunch of charges so they can get you to plea down and still have to pay. But of course, now she doesn’t have a job. We just had to pay her electric bill. And her court appointed attorney is a joke.

    Once you are in the system they wrangle and strangle you. It is no wonder young Black men run from the police. If you can get away and stay out of the system, you still have some autonomy. If you are in the system and you get picked up for anything at all, guilty or not, it doubles down on you.

  • I’ve had these same kinds of thoughts. White privilege exists in the background, ever present and all pervasive. It’s simply there and rarely acknowledged.

    I’ve only been stopped by a police officer once. And she was actually rather decent in her approach. She did not try any tactics to manipulate or grill me. She didn’t play any games. All that she did was ask why I was walking through that parking lot. She checked my license and called it in, probably because the wrong address was on it. But that was it and, in a few minutes, I was on my way.

    I do realize that it might have been different if I had not been white. For many years, this county had the second highest racial disparity in drug arrests. And keep in mind that this is a liberal college town where almost all of the drug use involves white people. It’s a small non-white population here.

  • Having worked in law enforcement and having relatives in law enforcement I can say that you never let them in without a VALID warrent and never talk to them without a lawyer present as anything can be used against you.

  • I am a white woman who has had to use the cops on multiple occasions – never with anyone I knew. I had to call them because of clearly drunk drivers swerving up onto side walks, or because once a guy honked at me at a light, made kissy and tongue faces, then followed me – I started driving in insane circles and all over the place. He tailed me for 15 mins and I called the cops. I drove past where they told me to and he took off at like a thousand miles and hour. One cop car stayed with me to make sure I was OK while the other two went after him. Don’t know who that guy was or what he wanted, but I’m glad i wasn’t willing to chance finding out.

    But when I had to call 911 for my mother sooo many time, the police always showed up with the ambulance to ask questions while the EMTs dealt with her. They were always looking around as if we would call 911 and leave a stash of coke out on the table or something for them to find. Like peeking into the kitchen, etc. I actually told them that I was standing here and to keep their eyes on me as it was not an invitation to search the home it was merely a request for assistance for my ailing mother. If I said that and I wasn’t white, I would have probably been dragged down to the station to ask why I felt the need to say that as they tore my mother’s home apart, but as it was they begrudgingly gave up their stupid, pointless non-search because it was stupid and pointless.

    Eventually, the calls became so frequent, that the one cop responded each time, even if he wasn’t really in the car that took the call. He’d come in and say hello to me and my mother and my father and my mother’s aide. The others were afraid of my mom’s dog and they always wanted us to put him outside or lock him up (a pit bull) this guy realized that gordon looked terrifying but was really just the kindest doggie alive. If the other officer started the typical non-search or tried to get us to lock gordon outside (never in one of the bedrooms because he might want to do a “slick non-search” there too, this guy would be like “I’ve got this. I know them, we’re good. Go back out and keep everyone safe.” then he would start to flick through my mother’s DVDs and ask her insane questions about the last time she smoked pot (she was 26), which DVD she kept the cocaine in, how many people she had assaulted in the last week (she was non-mobile and very ill). If she was not doing ok, her answers were really weird and he would make them handle it faster and get her to the hospital faster although they would ignore me even though I knew more about her medical situation than everyone else. But if she was mostly ok and it was just her hving severe difficulty breathing or her intestines were blocked, or any number of other potentially lethal things but were not STRAP HER TO A GURNEY NOW AND BLOW EVERY LIGHT WITHOUT SLOWING DOWN, she would respond much like I would – with dripping sarcasm to everything. She once told him she didn’t deal in cocaine – only meth and it she kept it in the ET DVD because that shit made you feel “outta this world”. He cracked up, but made me stay behind when they took her so that he could check the DVD anyway, even though he knew she was full of it. Couldn’t blame him for that. If he didn’t at least check, he’d be remiss because that could be considered an admission. He even told me once that he had to run her name through the database because she told him that since the last time she saw him (which was exactly one week and two days before, and she was in the hospital for a week of that) that she had driven across the country and “Bruce Lee’d” 38 people and “Jackie Chan’d” 12 more. She had to come home so she’d be here in time to see him though. She couldn’t lift a bottle of water because of her shoulders, but he ran her name anyway. The silly things she would make him have to do.

    The truth is though, I have seen the same kind of reaction and response with non-white people as well. It’s not white privilege in this instance (I don’t think), i think it happens to be one cop that we have the privilege to having serve our fairly large area. It’s truly a blessing to have him on the force. I also know that he was the one that kept the situation in hand when there was a massive drug bust. No one was injured or killed, although there were guns on both sides and there were all sorts of people inside the house that could have triggered all sorts of reactions that could have led to tragedy. But even with him, he asked me how I was I would never say more than “good” and ask how his family was, or tell him about what was wrong with my mom. If he asked anything else, and I mean ANYTHING, I would tell him “I have the right to remain silent until my representation is here.” He would roll his eyes, but that’s how my cousins on the force taught me to answer. Even if it’s a cop you like, a lot, who helped save your mother countless times in ten years, SAY NOTHING and never let them “innocently” look around, and don’t give them a glass of water. Have a bottle of water on hand and give them that. No reason for them to get you to leave the room you’re already in.

    And whether it’s warranted or not, put your dog outside. The cop doesn’t know your dog and if they think the dog is scary, they will draw – one did it to Gordon (this guy was training him). That asshole pulled a GUN in my mother’s house over a dog rolling over. Just put your dog outside or in a room. Save the dogs life too.

    And don’t let them in for a search unless you’ve checked their credentials and the warrant. READ the warrant as it will tel you the scope of the search, what they’re looking for, and what jurisdiction signed the warrant to be carried out. If the credentials do not match the jurisdiction, call your representation IMMEDIATELY. There may be a reason for it, and if it’s a valid warrant there’s nothing you can do about it, but waiting to get your attorney will just bite you later.

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