Two African American Oakland Police Officers pulled guns on a friend of mine for being a black man who fit a description.
Ok let’s say you’re at Fruitvale BART Station to meet your wife, and after boarding the elevator, and then casually walking out of it, suddenly find yourself starring at a guns pointed in your face by two Oakland Police Officers. What would you do?
That was the choice faced by my friend who I will not name, and only call “My Friend”. The reason is because I originally wrote this with his name in it, but asked him if it was OK to post. He said no, and because he believed the Oakland Police would retaliate against him in some way. Why he thinks this is beyond me, but I have noticed that as more incidents of police racism happen to black men, many don’t tell their stories. Indeed, there seems to be a fear – a kind of idea that the system’s going to stop them from living a comfortable life. It’s a view I don’t share and yet I’m haunted by what happened to him, because it could happen to me or you, or any black man.
“My Friend” posted his account on Facebook, and this is what he wrote three days ago now and after an incident that happened Monday afternoon of this week…
Today as I was stepping out the elevator of Fruitvale BART. I was greeted by OPD with their guns drawn. I followed their instructions and answered their questions ,got patted down and searched when they were satisfied I wasn’t who they were looking for they apologized for stopping me and let me be on my way….I’m ok…The cops were African American and very professional….Still I hated every second of it.
“My Friend”. said that he was waiting in his car for his wife to drop his son off. He had been at Fruitvale BART “waiting for a while. I don’t know if they closed the lot down while they were looking for the suspect. but they seemed surprised when I stepped out the elevator.”
“My Friend”, who is the kindest person you’d want to meet, told us that “Apparently I unknowingly stepped into a tense situation…” I wrote that the Oakland Police owed him an explanation beyond “I’m sorry”. His response was classic for his personality “Maybe…but I just wanted to get hell out of there.”
“My Friend”. doesn’t think what happened to him was news, but it is and for two reasons. First, the incident just so happened to occur as we approach the date of the 10th Anniversary of the shooting of Oscar Grant at the same Fruitvale BART Station, and that was on New Year’s Day morning of 2009.
Second, what happened to “My Friend” should not happen to anyone in Oakland, and it doesn’t matter that the Oakland Police officers who did that to him were black. They pointed their guns at him, and could have mistakenly opened fire on him. The OPD had no explanation for what they did, only said “All they told me was that they were looking for an armed suspect.” Ok, but “My Friend” was not armed and not the person. The officers could have stopped and questioned him without drawing their guns on him.
Again, “My Friend” doesn’t think this is news, but he did share his story on Facebook, and it is news – and its haunting me. It happened in a public place and there were witnesses to how the officers treated him. Moreover, it’s personally upsetting to this blogger, me, who was subjected to reading about the matter via our friendship and social media connection.
I want to make sure what happened to “My Friend” is less likely to happen to anyone else, especially anyone who’s black, because it happens a disproportionate amount of time to us. The fact is “My Friend” was one itchy Oakland Police Officer trigger finger from becoming a sad statistic. That should not be.
The American Civil Liberties Union has reported studies show that African Americans are far more likely than white Americans to die in police shootings, and California has five of America’s 15 police departments with the highest per capita rates of killings by officers: Bakersfield, Stockton, Long Beach, Santa Ana and San Bernardino.
If This Happens To You, File A Complaint With The Oakland Police Commission
What happened to “My Friend” is a matter that is perfect for review by the Oakland Police Commission. As the website for the OPC explains “Complaints of police misconduct give community members an opportunity to be heard and helps CPRA hold police officers accountable.” Complaints of misconduct may prevent other community members from having similar experiences. Complaints may result in the discipline of an officer and/or alert police supervisors to initiate changes in policy and training. Any member of the public may file a complaint. CPRA can receive any type of complaint against a current Oakland police officer or park ranger.”
Black Men In Oakland Must Stand Up and Insist On Proper Treatment In All Aspects Of Life
Black men in Oakland must complain; too often, we are content to let society do things to us rather than fight back. Let’s take Kenzie Smith, the man who was the target of BBQ Becky at Lake Merritt. He told me on video that Jessica Schulte told him she purchased Lake Merritt for $5.7 million, before calling 9-11 on him and his friends just for holding a cookout! I said I’d have called the Oakland Police and had her locked up for being a nutcase. He waved his hand and said no – and he basically let her harass him before his wife Michelle (who’s white) came over and made the video of Jessica that’s gained over 3 million views to date.
Kenzie should not fear to take matters into his own and make society work for him. But I find far too many black men in Oakland don’t do that, and express that they’re afraid to do that.
Time to change. After all, look what happened to W. Kamau Bell when he made an issue of being racially profiled at The Elmwood Cafe in Berkeley (now called Baker & Commons) a few years back. He wound up with an Emmy-award-winning TV show on CNN.
My friend who experienced the horror has just defriended me on Facebook for writing this post. I took great pains to explain to him that “his story” pained me and is really the story of black men in America – and one that has to be brought to a close. He doesn’t understand that he can’t share something like that on social media, then ask me or anyone else not to react to it, except to read what he posts. That’s not the way it works.
I started to think about the way he and I differently perceive society: if I said something was racist, he would disagree or try to ignore the racial component, even when it was completely obvious that race was the issue. But, that’s how he copes with society; more power to him.
I can’t do that.
A friend of mine who’s white recently observed that black men are always under a cloud of suspicion. The main problem is that we as black men allow that state of affairs to exist. Here’s another example of what I mean.
I was covering the Oakland Raiders’ press conference introducing Jack Del Rio has head coach in January of 2015. After the event, I was talking with a group of members of the media, when one of the folks said “Oh. This is bad.” “What is bad?”, I asked. “THIS”, he said. And what he was referring to was the fact that we were all black, standing as a group, talking as friends.
I knew he was joking, but it wasn’t funny to me. “Don’t even think that, again,” I found myself saying, reflexively. “Don’t ever think you’re not supposed to belong or be a part of society.”
He completely understood what I meant and agreed.
I’m sad that my friend elected to cut our friendship, but what happened isn’t about him, it’s about a society that has to hold black men in higher regard, and too often does not – even when it’s black-on-black. Pulling a gun on an unarmed man should be a remote last resort for any Oakland Police Officer. But the problem is that when it comes to black men, pulling out a gun on an unarmed man is a first action for many police officers,in Oakland and America.
There’s example after example of white men getting better treatment in the situation that my friend was in. That has to stop. I’m tired of young African Americans believing that the “rules” are different, rather than feeling that society is for them, as much as anyone else. I’m tired of statistics telling us that the new “crime apps” are used to file false reports on black men. Is that what happened at Fruitvale BART?