SINCE THIS RACIST PHENOMENON HAS BEEN PREVALENT IN THE NEWS IN RECENT TIMES, I THOUGHT I WOULD SHARE MY OWN ENCOUNTER WITH NOT BEING TREATED WELL BY LAW ENFORCEMENT SOLELY DUE TO THE COLOR OF MY SKIN
Sometime during mid-July, 1997. Santa Monica, CA.
I had just celebrated a milestone birthday – my 30th – just a few weeks before, as I stepped out of my duplex house in Santa Monica’s Pico Neighborhood, the part of town where African-Americans, Latinos, and the low-income population of that seaside town have historically resided and continue to do so.
I was on my way to buy a newspaper that late Saturday morning, and had just crossed the street when all of a sudden I heard behind me,
“FREEZE! PUT YOUR HANDS BEHIND YOUR HEAD!”
I turned around and saw a guy in a plain clothes suit, his badge hooked on his belt, his gun pointing straight at me as he asked if I was a stalker named Tony Phillips.
The fact that I had said no didn’t deter him any, as the next thing I knew my hands were cuffed behind my back.
The plain clothes cop then asked me if I had my identification, which I admittedly didn’t have. “If you let me go inside my house, I’ll show you my ID”, I said.
He then led me across the street to my door, then at my request took the handcuffs off of me so I can let myself in to get my wallet from my bedroom.
When I did so and showed the guy what he wanted to see, to what I am forced to admit was his credit he said to me upon realizing that I was not the man he was looking for, he then said to me before he and his partner left,
“OK, we’re sorry.”
That apology, however, did not change the feelings that countless other young black men feel in encounters such as this; like they are seen by policemen, particularly white policemen – of course the guys who handcuffed my and believed I “fit the description” of a stalker were Caucasians of European descent – as nothing but sub-human degenerates and criminals who needed to be controlled by any means.
It wasn’t the first time I was profiled like this as roughly five years before, I was getting some food at my favorite Mexican restaurant a couple of blocks from my home – those from Santa Monica would know the name of the place – a cop in uniform entered the restaurant, stopped me as I was heading out the door with my arms full of tacos, nachos and burritos, and would have arrested me right then and there for “fitting the description” of some criminal if not for another guy across the street shouting, “That’s not him!”, essentially vouching for me.
Being that I had lived in Santa Monica for over twenty years at that point (17 years in one house), and being that I was known as someone who stayed out of trouble, not joining gangs or doing any other degenerate things, I was obviously quite irked over how I was treated in that community due to what I looked like and where I lived, as the Pico Neighborhood is, for all intents and purposes, the “inner city” of Santa Monica.
In fact, in a play on Los Angeles’ more well-known counterpart I have referred to the area as “South Central Santa Monica”; while the gang, crime and poverty issues were and are not as prevalent in the “Pico” as in what’s now referred to as “South L.A.”, without going into any details such issues were certainly there.
Putting it another way, I was not as sad or nostalgic as I may have been otherwise when my family and I moved away a year and a half later.
While it’s not my intent to badmouth Santa Monica or the Pico Neighborhood, for the reasons I just described and others which I don’t really want to discuss, I just didn’t fit in there.
It was time to go.
As for the racist profiling I endured, I can certainly understand what young African-American men and boys go through across America because of what had happened to me.
Granted, I was never arrested, and mug shots of me do not exist.
And I’m obviously here to write about all of this, unlike so many others who are no longer with us due to police bullets being shot into them.
But I more than sympathize – I want to make that crystal clear.
Sometimes I wonder if encounters and incidents like what happened to Trayvon Martin in Florida, Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, and so many other young black males in so many other places, will ever stop.
My honest answer to that, if some one asked me, is…
“I truly don’t know.”
An all too common site, tragically speaking, in certain neighborhoods. Photo courtesy of atlantablackstar.com