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This is what Steve Locke wore to work today. He was stopped by the police because of it.
This is what I wore to work today.
On my way to get a burrito before work, I was detained by the police.
I noticed the police car in the public lot behind Centre Street. As I was walking away from my car, the cruiser followed me. I walked down Centre Street and was about to cross over to the burrito place and the officer got out of the car.
“Hey my man,” he said.
He unsnapped the holster of his gun.
I took my hands out of my pockets.
“Yes?” I said.
“Where you coming from?”
How’d you get here?”
He was next to me now. Two other police cars pulled up. I was standing in front of the bank across the street from the burrito place. I was going to get lunch before I taught my 1:30 class. There were cops all around me.
I said nothing. I looked at the officer who addressed me. He was white, stocky, bearded.
“You weren’t over there, were you?” He pointed down Centre Street toward Hyde Square.
“No. I came from Dedham.”
“What’s your address?”
I told him.
“We had someone matching your description just try to break into a woman’s house.”
A second police officer stood next to me; white, tall, bearded. Two police cruisers passed and would continue to circle the block for the 35 minutes I was standing across the street from the burrito place.
“You fit the description,” the officer said. “Black male, knit hat, puffy coat. Do you have identification.”
“It’s in my wallet. May I reach into my pocket and get my wallet?”
I handed him my license. I told him it did not have my current address. He walked over to a police car. The other cop, taller, wearing sunglasses, told me that I fit the description of someone who broke into a woman’s house. Right down to the knit cap.
Barbara Sullivan made a knit cap for me. She knitted it in pinks and browns and blues and oranges and lime green. No one has a hat like this. It doesn’t fit any description that anyone would have. I looked at the second cop. I clasped my hands in front of me to stop them from shaking.
“For the record,” I said to the second cop, “I’m not a criminal. I’m a college professor.” I was wearing my faculty ID around my neck, clearly visible with my photo.
“You fit the description so we just have to check it out.” The first cop returned and handed me my license.
“We have the victim and we need her to take a look at you to see if you are the person.”
It was at this moment that I knew that I was probably going to die. I am not being dramatic when I say this. I was not going to get into a police car. I was not going to present myself to some victim. I was not going let someone tell the cops that I was not guilty when I already told them that I had nothing to do with any robbery. I was not going to let them take me anywhere because if they did, the chance I was going to be accused of something I did not do rose exponentially. I knew this in my heart. I was not going anywhere with these cops and I was not going to let some white woman decide whether or not I was a criminal, especially after I told them that I was not a criminal. This meant that I was going to resist arrest. This meant that I was not going to let the police put their hands on me.
If you are wondering why people don’t go with the police, I hope this explains it for you.
Something weird happens when you are on the street being detained by the police. People look at you like you are a criminal. The police are detaining you so clearly you must have done something, otherwise they wouldn’t have you. No one made eye contact with me. I was hoping that someone I knew would walk down the street or come out of one of the shops or get off the 39 bus or come out of JP Licks and say to these cops, “That’s Steve Locke. What the FUCK are you detaining him for?”
The cops decided that they would bring the victim to come view me on the street. The asked me to wait. I said nothing. I stood still.
“Thanks for cooperating,” the second cop said. “This is probably nothing, but it’s our job and you do fit the description. 5′ 11″, black male. One-hundred-and-sixty pounds, but you’re a little more than that. Knit hat.”
A little more than 160. Thanks for that, I thought.
An older white woman walked behind me and up to the second cop. She turned and looked at me and then back at him. “You guys sure are busy today.”
I noticed a black woman further down the block. She was small and concerned. She was watching what was going on. I focused on her red coat. I slowed my breathing. I looked at her from time to time.
I thought: Don’t leave, sister. Please don’t leave.
The first cop said, “Where do you teach?”
“Massachusetts College of Art and Design.” I tugged at the lanyard that had my ID.
“How long you been teaching there?”
We stood in silence for about 10 more minutes.
An unmarked police car pulled up. The first cop went over to talk to the driver. The driver kept looking at me as the cop spoke to him. I looked directly at the driver. He got out of the car.
“I’m Detective Cardoza. I appreciate your cooperation.”
I said nothing.
“I’m sure these officers told you what is going on?”
“Where are you coming from?”
“From my home in Dedham.”
“How did you get here?”
“Where is your car?”
“It’s in the lot behind Bukhara.” I pointed up Centre Street.
“Okay,” the detective said. “We’re going to let you go. Do you have a car key you can show me?”
“Yes,” I said. “I’m going to reach into my pocket and pull out my car key.”
I showed him the key to my car.
The cops thanked me for my cooperation. I nodded and turned to go.
“Sorry for screwing up your lunch break,” the second cop said.
I walked back toward my car, away from the burrito place. I saw the woman in red.
“Thank you,” I said to her. “Thank you for staying.”
“Are you ok?” She said. Her small beautiful face was lined with concern.
“Not really. I’m really shook up. And I have to get to work.”
“I knew something was wrong. I was watching the whole thing. The way they are treating us now, you have to watch them. ”
“I’m so grateful you were there. I kept thinking to myself, ‘Don’t leave, sister.’ May I give you a hug?”
“Yes,” she said. She held me as I shook. “Are you sure you are ok?”
“No I’m not. I’m going to have a good cry in my car. I have to go teach.”
“You’re at MassArt. My friend is at MassArt.”
“What’s your name?” She told me. I realized we were Facebook friends. I told her this.
“I’ll check in with you on Facebook,” she said.
I put my head down and walked to my car.
My colleague was in our shared office and she was able to calm me down. I had about 45 minutes until my class began and I had to teach. I forgot the lesson I had planned. I forget the schedule. I couldn’t think about how to do my job. I thought about the fact my word counted for nothing, they didn’t believe that I wasn’t a criminal. They had to find out. My word was not enough for them. My ID was not enough for them. My handmade one-of-a-kind knit hat was an object of suspicion. My Ralph Lauren quilted blazer was only a “puffy coat.” That white woman could just walk up to a cop and talk about me like I was an object for regard. I wanted to go back and spit in their faces. The cops were probably deeply satisfied with how they handled the interaction, how they didn’t escalate the situation, how they were respectful and polite.
I imagined sitting in the back of a police car while a white woman decides if I am a criminal or not. If I looked guilty being detained by the cops imagine how vile I become sitting in a cruiser? I knew I could not let that happen to me. I knew if that were to happen, I would be dead.
Nothing I am, nothing I do, nothing I have means anything because I fit the description.
I had to confess to my students that I was a bit out of it today and I asked them to bear with me. I had to teach.
After class I was supposed to go to the openings for First Friday. I went home.
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Originally published on Art and Everything After. Photo courtesy of author.
I am so embarrassed on behalf of my race for the way this man and so many others are being treated. It really is awful and I want to do more to help. I especially found gut wrenching the correct statement that the cops probably were congratulating themselves for not escalating the situation. No one should live in fear based on victim ID like this – for fitting a general description.
Having been invited to “Speak Your Mind”, I respectfully will share my opinion. Reading Professor Steve Locke’s account of being detained by police it is clearly evident he is dealing with emotional issues that are indirectly revealed in his writing. Professor Locke describes a typical “Police Show-up” investigation that occurs hundreds of times across our nation on any given day. Professor Locke also describes the trepidation many citizen’s experience when being detained in a public place by police. Sadly, Professor Locke’s emotional issues led to trepidation causing him to visibly shake, which can prompt police to wonder why a innocent… Read more »
What was the jacket’s color? What was the hat’s color? What was the man’s skin color? Black. Fitting the description and being suspected of having committed a crime seems so easy when all you think about is skin color. The victim hopefully provided a good description to the police. However, it’s quite likely the cops or maybe even the author may have filtered out that information. If someone asks me to get something the color black from the grocery store, I’d most likely return with something that wasn’t intended. I think the police record and blotter should be reviewed to… Read more »
Jeff you can disagree all you want, but Joanna is right on the money here. I have these debates with family on the regular, who , like you, don’t see the big picture and can’t / won’t stop kissing the shoes of police. My uncle, my favorite uncle btw, is a state cop and has been for 17 years, even he would agree with Steve and Joanna.
Joanna, i agree with your response here. I do disagree with your first reply to Mark however, and I’d actually like to see you reply back to Mark because he actually further explained to you what he had meant.
“It was at this moment that I knew that I was probably going to die. I am not being dramatic when I say this. I was not going to get into a police car. I was not going to present myself to some victim. I was not going let someone tell the cops that I was not guilty when I already told them that I had nothing to do with any robbery. I was not going to let them take me anywhere because if they did, the chance I was going to be accused of something I did not do… Read more »
I am impressed with most of your posts 123 but this one takes the prize. Wonderfully dissected in its conclusion. One of the things that dismays me the most is the lazy thought process going on today. I hear it therefore I must react regardless of whether it’s true or not. Its been endlessly repeated of over 350 mass shootings this year in America. I researched it and from Mother Jones it tallied 73 where 4 or more were killed in a single incident at 73 since 1982! Other people cite this higher number in their defense of banning guns… Read more »
Steve – I want to thank you for sharing your story – it touched me in many ways on many levels. I cannot imagine being detained during my lunch. I cannot imagine one person having that much control over my freedom and having authorities back her up on what she *thought* she saw. I cannot imagine being eyed up by one policeman, let alone many in front of a bunch of people in a very public place – like having a swat team descend all because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. How intimidating that would… Read more »
“I have no reason to fear being harmed or killed by the police because there aren’t many stories about white men being beat up or accidentally killed by the police.”
According to the Washington Post in the first five months of 2015, 100 black men were killed by police and 171 white men about 16 being unarmed.
It just seems weird when people assert that the issue is knowing about the problem rather than there being a problem. Ignorance might be bliss, but won’t save your life.
I don’t know if my previous comment will be approved. In part of it I talk about fear, rational and irrational, who has responsibility for it, etc. Let me tell you another story about fear. I have a black friend who would sometimes clutch her purse when a white man came up behind her. She wasn’t afraid they would snatch her purse. She just wanted to do the same thing some white women did around some black men she knew. They always looked at her puzzled. Anyway, these white women were scared that these black men would steal their purses.… Read more »
It comes down to the balance between justice, safety, and rights. Not just the safety of the officers and suspect, but the safety of the community at large. Protecting the public at larges is supposed to be one of the reasons we lock people up. How do you think it should have been handled? I know the description was sketchy, but that’s what she saw. Are you demanding a much more accurate description before the police stop someone? Are you suggesting that police should use educational level or professional achievement as a defactu character witness? The big question is whether… Read more »
So if there had been an old black woman who had been robbed and she misidentified you as the perp, that would have been ok? I find it funny that you tell them you’re innocent and well, that should be good enough. lol
Steve, I read your piece with interest but you left out something really strange: Some white lady was attacked by a black man. That really happened. Yet, even though she was the victim of a crime, you made the whole article you wrote about you. You aren’t the victim here, the mugging victim is the victim. There was no ending where you and the white lady talked about your challenges. You ignored her like she didn’t even exist. You just ignored the crime victim like you didn’t care. That’s a problem buddy. It’s a problem you need to think about.… Read more »
DC, a white lady wasn’t attacked by a black man. A white lady claimed a black man tried to break into her house. Stick with the facts. There were at least 3 recent cases in the media where black people have been outright MURDERED because a white person though they were trying to break into the house, when in fact, they needed medical attention. So the only one with the problem, is you.
I’m sure there were also many people who have had their homes broken into as well. Aren’t we supposed to believe the accuser at least initially?
That is literally the exact opposite of what we are supposed to do.
All you got out of the writing that a black man missed an opportunity to make nice and shake hands with his white oppressor after enduring a demeaning and potentially fatal encounter with police? Is that it? Because I really do believe that’s all you got. Did you take even a moment to wonder how the report of a home being burglarized became inflated to “A white woman was attacked” in your mind? With astonishing precision you dismissed and negated the lived experience of oppression of a person of color and shifted focus right back to white victimhood. Then you… Read more »
I still deal with the aftereffects of my ex-wife getting an order of protection against me and having me thrown out of our home. The two sheriffs officers that showed up treated me just fine. But, I still get uneasy whenever a police car pulls up behind me or if there is one that is in an unusual place. It happened this morning when I was at Starbucks. A police car was parked really weird next to my car. But, I left and he was still sitting there. I hope one day this ends for me. But, I don’t know… Read more »
When I was 10 our landlord tried to rip us off by having his buddy get free electricity in the basement apartment from our meter. Our lights were off all the time and we even unplugged the stove except when directly using it but the bill was several hundred dollars that my mom had no way to pay, because she’d been expecting a lot less after how we treated the electricity. The landlord showed up one time with a police officer while my mom was out. I wouldn’t open the door because I was home alone. They went out on… Read more »
Btw. While you imagined sitting in the back of a cop car and getting exonerated or not, I was in the car and then hauled out into the home where the victims took a very long look at me. God I prayed these old folks could see well enough yet. But they did and they were honest and I so appreciated that at least. So to those who knew jerk when you have the experience you can talk. Like Steve. And me. I just didn’t get wraoed into the fact that I was just a punk kid. Maybe being thought… Read more »
Sorry you had to experience that Steve. Happened to me when I was about 18. 40 years ago. With the addition of a 38 in my face. Mistaken by what I was wearing. And btw I’m white. You handled it exactly how it should be handled. No chip on your shoulder and no self righteousness. They were doing their job too. It really wasn’t personal no matter how much media and folks want to make it so. Be well.
Just to be clear, “no chip on your shoulder” is coded language for “no anger over being racially profiled” and is a way of asking people who have EVERY right to be angry over the way people of color are treated by law enforcement here in the USA to not be angry. I’m white, too, and I’m realistic that if a 5’7″ blonde woman robbed a bank wearing jeans and a tee shirt that I might be asked to stand aside or do what they asked Steve to do. HOWEVER it would never be the same, because I would never… Read more »
I had my head bounced off the hood of a police car, and my legs kicked out from under me for no reason other than supposedly some guy in a similar car drove through some yards and knocked over a bunch of mailboxes. In a separate occasion I had an officer lift me up with the point of his nightstick under my chin. (Put the point of a broomstick right in that soft spot behind your chin and try to lower your weight on it) In neither case was I committing any offense other than fitting the description (in one… Read more »
Thank you so much for your response and speaking the truth.
I think You’re reading too much into it Joanna. Really. If you get back in the face of a cop because all these other people are I could care less what skin color you are. It probably won’t end well. That’s all I meant by the chip on ones shoulder. The youth seem to have it today by the boatload and then call foul when someone reacts to it. Steve handled it like a responsible adult in my opinion. And I think you went a bit overboard on calling out what you see as a better truth than what I… Read more »
And by the way Joanna. I don’t think it’s that even if it was as you think coded language as you say that they were complicit in their deaths, the fact is they were. How many lunged for the officers gun? That’s complicity. How many didn’t stop. Thats complicity. Its just a fact. Was there a better way of taking them down at times. I’ll bet there was. But I wasn’t there and you weren’t either. There’s certainly intimidation on both sides. Did you see the protester inches away from the Chicago cops face and the cop didn’t respond at… Read more »
Thank you Joanna.
My God Steve! I am so sorry that this happened to you. I am white and living in Canada so I cannot begin to understand what it is to be in that kind of fear just because you happen to be a black man. I can only say that I care and this is not OK. Thank you for telling your story. I hope that one day it will not be like this anywhere.
I’m a black Canadian… don’t think this doesn’t happen up here too. I’ve had similar situations happen on multiple occasions.
This was extremely powerful, and it happens more often than many would like to admit. Thank you for sharing and reminding us that there is still a lot of work left to do in the fight for equal treatment under the law. I used to believe that being a woman protected me, being an attractive woman, being an attractive, well-dressed woman, being an attractive, well-dressed woman with an Ivy League degree. I’m pretty sure none of that even remotely matters anymore and quite frankly it never should have. Yes, we sometimes have these internal fights on how to present ourselves… Read more »