For many people, an encounter with the police is an abstraction. Sure, they have seen thousands of arrests in the movies and on television, from the deadpan Sgt. Joe Friday of the 1960s to the gritty realism of The Wire and other more recent police dramas. But it’s much different when you are the suspect.
Walking down a street in Minneapolis or St. Paul, imagine you notice a patrol car following you. The officers exit their vehicle and indicate they would like to speak with you. One officer unsecures his firearm. They are not here to discuss the latest Viking’s loss.
They politely inquire where you are coming from and going. Eventually, they let you know there was a robbery and “you fit the description.” How would you feel? Heart racing? Palms sweaty, breathing labored?
This occurs because you know these officers have the authority to take away your liberty and, if things escalate badly, your life.
Especially if you are African-American. Even if you are a professor at an art school, dressed in your Ralph Lauren blazer and wearing your photo id from your school around your neck.
This happened to a professor in Boston and he posted an account of his experience. Nothing “bad” happened. He was not physically harmed and the conversation remained civil and subdued. But his experience was anything but subdued.
His sense of personal safety and security was shaken. He realized that he could be sucked into the criminal justice system by random chance while on his way to teaching his class, because, however imperfectly, he matched a description. His fear was fueled by recent incidents that suggest he could die in the process.
If you have never been arrested or even stopped by the police, it may be difficult to conceive how surreal and disorienting the experience can be. Being stopped by the police is never trivial or inconsequential, even when no overt harm occurs.
Source: bostonglobe.com, “MassArt professor’s account of police stop resonates online,” Aneri Pattani, December 7, 2015