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.

3 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.

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