One time in college I took one of my weird late-night runs in UB’s track arena. At first it was awesome because no one else was there. I was jumping over all the old track gear that was still left out and having a good time. And this becomes a big deal: I think my dorky ~20 year old self let out something like a “Yeah!” when I cleared something my chubbier former self couldn’t.
A minute after, a cop car pulled up to the track arena and shined his highbeams on me buuut nothing more, and I didn’t think I was officially not allowed there at night as the gate sure was open, so I did another lap. No other change. No, cops didn’t come at me right away like I was nervous they for some reason would, but something about the only source of light coming from a cop’s highbeams made me less than comfortable, so I left.
The car followed me, and was joined by two other cars (I realized later that’s what first was waiting for.) I was still listening to rammstein which I play pretty damn loud, so I didn’t hear them, and wasn’t aware that these cars on the road were more squad cars coming to me until I realized that their headlights were no longer actively moving over concrete.
To top it off, when I turned around I see the cop on the passenger side standing and pointing gun over his door, straight my way.
Wow. First time in my life a gun is pulled on me and it’s by a cop in Amherst. This gets me, because there are places where things are clearly much tougher on a cop or detainee than Amherst, and I know many of those places.
“WHY ARE YOU RUNNING.” Cop behind the gun yells it like it’s not a question.
Hey that’s something my dad has asked me too many times when I was going to take my weird late runs in Brooklyn.
“For exercise?” I answer it like it’s a question.
So the cop comes closer and at least lowers his gun, but that’s just to handcuff me. I’m then asked where was I coming from, where do I live on campus, who was with me. I remember answering: right there, over there, and no one-excuse-me-did-I-do-something-wrong-did-or-something-happen?
I’m told to hang on as they investigate the field I just came from. One of the other cars goes back to the field track and takes investigative action that involves SHINING LIGHT EVERYWHERE. I’m also right in front of Flint Village, and know and tutor some people there and, as a younger guy I care about that stuff extra.
“Hey, are these handcuffs really necessary? This is kind of embarrassing.”
“Yeah.” The cop who I wasn’t talking to, the one who didn’t point the gun my way says, “…because everybody’s watching.”
I’m pretty sure revolving squad-lights outside of a village complex in Amherst are kind of as big of an outside scene as it gets at 3am in Buffalo — if there’s no football.
And I remember being immediately pissed at his sarcasm. At that time, to me, his attitude was more offensive than the gun. I could go into why, but I just remember thinking, “Hi you should shut the fuck up but you’re a cop and I can’t just tell you that. Uch. How can I tell you to shut the fuck up?”
So I remember side-eyeing him and turning my head even though I’m still wearing handcuffs and standing over his stupid dodge charger and hear myself go “…Sir? The attitude’s really not necessary.”
And then he closed his mouth. He shut the fuck up.
And I remember realizing that he wasn’t expecting me to be able to make those mouth sounds, because he stopped having smart things to say and let me tell it straight: sometimes actively seeing someone close their mouth immediately makes a situation better, and this was one of those times. I remember he was pretty much quiet for the rest of the exchange.
From there it was a few minutes more before the cops gave me my ID back and said they heard someone yell in the track. Yes officer, I’m pretty sure that was me getting way into my run and headphones for a leap sorry I didn’t think it sounded that disturbing but I guess someone thought it did.
I had to wait until two more cares searched the track field and made sure I wasn’t, you know, doing all the late-night crimes. The more information the cops got, the more they realized I really was just a big dork who lived in the nearby dorms.
Handcuffs came off promptly after that. I found that with the cop who kept asking questions, I found that the more polite I was, the more polite he got. He ended up saying sorry and offering me a ride back. I said thanks but no thanks for a few reasons and walked back to my (smelly) dorm room.
I guess about here in this recall I’m supposed to make connections and relate to yet, another incident where -yet another- guy was shot in America who did need to be. Where things became incomparably different than the above because in my story, a dork got to just walk back to where he lived and think about it.
For anyone who reads this far, I’m sure the reaction has a bit of expectation about whatever point should be made right about now, but all I’ll summarize is, it was just fucking weird. There are thoughts a moment like that puts into you for the rest of your life.
For me, part of it was realizing who I did and did not want to share this news with, because that kind of cop interaction doesn’t normally happen even after 10 loud Yeahs. And there’s no reason to make others worry because I want to enjoy my dumb late night runs. It’s also also life changing to alter your view of a protector as a possible threat. No, to this day I don’t think cops are threats, but stupidly scared trigger fingers absolutely can be. And the statement that should be apparent is: not everyone feels the same way throughout a cop interaction.
I remember when that gun was pointed, actually feeling like “well, I’d-better-not-make-this-worse-but-he’ll-probably-not-shoot-me-because-that’ll-ruin-the-rest-of-his-life-too.” Apparently, things are twisted enough that some people would even dub wherever that feeling comes from as privileged. I’m mixed so I can never make an argument based around race in my life ever, but what I do know now is this:
I don’t know the level of risk I was really dealing with, I’ll never know those cops or how they saw me, but that feeling above was still the first thing that went through my head when I registered the barrel end of that gun. It was what it was.
I think If we believe in justice, we can believe in the above and feel safer for it. Feeling safer allows us to think more coldly in situations that can get heated way to quickly, and that’s a big deal.
In that instance, everything definitely would’ve been worse if there wasn’t clear respect in multiple places throughout my detainment. (Maybe that’s why that “Yeah cause everyone’s watching” reaction got me.) And I don’t think it’s that insane, even in that crazy situation where these …bald white cops who decided to get my attention the way they did…. still deserved my respect throughout. Even if one of them has obviously lived with a tiny peepee for their entire life and needs to learn there are professional and unprofessional times to definitely not be sarcastic.
I do believe in an ideal world, American cops wouldn’t ever react to 6’4 racially ambigious guys at night with multiple dodge chargers and firearms. They’d probably use ninja swords and night sticks, but, as everyone knows, it takes too much talent and skill to use ninja swords and night sticks well enough, and we don’t have enough of those talented people also being cops. We have what we have.
But in an ideal world, we wouldn’t need cops.
So we have what we have.
I still think the bottom line is that zero respect on either end, between law enforcement and civ, is irresponsible.
Whenever it’s one-sided, there’s clearly a problem.