Essay: 'I've dealt with more experiences of police negligence and abuse than I can count'
I stood there feeling angry, embarrassed, indignant and — most of all — fearful of what the police would do next.
Last week, while I was on my way to work, two police officers stopped me. Without any explanation, they asked me several questions; and I had to ask the officers multiple times why I had been stopped. Eventually, they explained that I fit the description of a reported mugger who was active in that area of West Philly: Male, near 6 feet tall, late 20s/early 30s, appearing light-skinned, possibly African-American, Hispanic or Arab, with some facial hair and wearing a grey knit hat.
This profile seemed really general. So I asked the police whether they were stopping every person who fit that description. In reply, one officer said the color of my bike (pink) seemed strange for a guy. "Is that your bike?" he asked. I stood there feeling angry, embarrassed, indignant and — most of all — fearful of what the police would do next. Meanwhile, person after person — several of whom fit the assailant’s profile — went passing by. I produced a ticket stub for a movie that ran during the reported time of the mugging, and which I had picked up at will-call. But this seemed to be immediately and completely dismissed as a viable alibi.
It may be that you’ve never gone through something like this yourself. Or, maybe this experience seems like just an annoying but otherwise harmless instance of “bad policing.” And, perhaps my experience doesn’t seem all that related to the recent media focus on Black people dying by lethal police force. But consider this: In my 12 years in Philadelphia, I've personally dealt with more experiences of police negligence and abuse than I can count. On more than one occasion, I have sincerely and legitimately feared for my life at the hands of police. And, I have seen this happen disproportionately to other people of color as well, on a regular basis
I’ve never shared my experience of police harassment in a public forum before now. I didn’t think it was worth the potential blowback. I had burned out on people with different experiences being critical or unconvinced. I got tired of my own terrifying trials becoming random, exciting stories for other people, with no room to understand the actual impact.
So here I am going out on a limb. I am speaking out here and now for a very specific reason. In the shadow of the recent grand jury verdicts on use of lethal force by police, if you still have doubt that there is a deep-seated problem in how our nation’s police forces function, you need to listen openly to the stories of the people who are being most affected. And, if it’s difficult to see how racism is not just particular individuals doing bad things, but endemic to our society and therefore a fundamental part of how our nation is policed — you must look deeper.
Police abuse and brutality is not just a matter of isolated incidents. It is an actual part of everyday life for millions of people in the United States. This is not an opinion. This is not a misunderstanding. This is not a political view. This is a fact.
As for my latest experience, eventually, I was released by the police. There was no explanation for why it took so long to do so. There was no apology for wasting my time. On its face, it might seem like just an aggravation. In reality, experiences like these shape the character of many people’s everyday lives — mine included. So, the next time you hear an account of police abuse, listen. And when you see police detaining someone on the street, stop, open your eyes and truly witness it.
Corey Mark is a musician who lives and works in Philadelphia.
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