We have a history of mistrust between African-Americans and our nation's police officers who have been sworn to enforce the laws in times of slavery, Jim Crow, legalized segregation, and now the war on drugs. In this last installment of The Best of Dayton Youth Radio, we have a story that first aired three years ago by a Centerville high school student named Mandela Brown.
It was a summer night at only 9 p.m. My three friends and I had gone to get ice cream, but Trey didn't have cash, so we went to the Wright-Patt Credit Union so he could use the ATM.
The sirens blared as we walked down the sidewalk, breaking the silence of peaceful suburbia. My friends and I covered our eyes from the lights that lit up the night sky like a firecracker on the Fourth of July. As I licked my ice cream cone, I knew instantly what was about to happen.
The cop, who was white, exited the car. I told my friend to step back and to shut up and let me do the talking.
The officer told us that there had been a complaint about four black males causing a public disturbance in the area. This cop wasn't aggressive with us, but he wasn't friendly either. He wanted to know why we were in the area, and he told us to go home immediately.
My friends truly cannot believe how we could be seen as a threat. But me, I wasn't surprised because we're seen as animals, as less than human, as dangerous. I know what I’m talking about because I've been dealing with police since I was 13.
My first serious encounter was in middle school after a Friday Night Lights football game. All the kids were walking up to a popular hangout in warm and cheerful Centreville, and I wanted to catch up with some friends on the other side of the street where they were hanging out. I didn't cross at the light, like any other suburban teenager. I jaywalked, but I was a black teenager that warranted it for me to be arrested and put in handcuffs in front of everyone to see. I was only 13, mind you. I thought I was going to die.
How would you feel if you got slammed up against a cop car at age 13 with handcuffs on? How would you feel? Would you feel good? Would you laugh? Would you joke around?
It went to court, and it was thrown out with the judge saying it was the silliest case he had ever seen.
In my sophomore year, I was selling fundraiser cards for my high school track team. It was a brisk February night, and my overeager little brother tagged along to help me. We got through 15 houses without a problem until I saw those ever familiar flashing lights approaching us, and I just thought, not again. Really? I’m doing something good. I'm trying to help the community. I am working for my track coach to sell these cards so I can get these t-shirts.
But then the officer exited the car slowly and this is what made it worse, his hand was on his holster. His eyes locked on my hands. But he never gave me a reason why I was being questioned or why I was being stopped. But just like any other time, he said go home immediately.
But do I get angry? Yes.
Do I get mad? Yes.
Yes, I believe I’m treated unfairly in this country.
Yes, I wish things were better.
And yes, I believe that police overstepped their boundaries as law enforcement, but that does not give me the right to fire back. Because that makes me just as bad as my oppressor. I would rather choose the harder right over the easier wrong any day, because that makes me better.
My parents taught me from a very young age to avoid confrontations with police because like I said earlier, even the smallest sign of anger could cause a more dangerous and possibly fatal situation to occur.
I come from a privileged background. My father's a doctor, my mom's a nurse. I feel like they named me Mandela for a reason, a man of peace. Not all cops are bad and not all black men are innocent, I'll admit that. But this endless bloodshed must stop because our country is being split into two.
I don't want to have to teach my son to look out for cops like my father did. I want the sight of a police officer to make him feel safe, to make him feel comfortable. I want him to be able to go up to a police officer and say, “Officer, I need your help.” I don't want him to run from a cop, and I don't want him to have to fear them.
Mandela Brown is a graduate of Centerville High School who now attends the University of Cincinnati. Special Thanks to Tricia Rapoch, teacher for the Communication Arts Program at Centerville High School. Learn more at the school's website: http://www.centerville.k12.oh.us/CHS Dayton Youth Radio is supported by the Virginia W. Kettering Foundation, the Vectren Foundation and the Ohio Arts Council.
This story was created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.