I have trouble sometimes reading The Crommunist’s blog, but I’m fairly certain that this trouble is largely due to my being a white, privileged male in a society that loves that. I don’t think of myself as privileged, which adds to my confusion. I’m poor and struggling to make ends meet, I have worked for what little I have, and far from being propelled forward, I am often held back by people. But the truth of things, and I know this, is that lots of people have it far worse than I, and for reasons that come right down to things like the color of their skin, the faith they hold dear, and the community they live in. When I say I have trouble with The Crommunist, I mean that I have trouble seeing the truth in that regard, but I’m trying, and I read his blog because more often than not when I really think about his posts, he’s right and I’m wrong.
The post of his that I just read, however, is one that I can definitely relate to. It’s called To Deceive And Project, and talks about the disgusting underbelly of the police. His post is largely about those undercover cops whose job appears to be inciting trouble from within activist groups, but I can relate on my own level.
Like I said, I have to admit that I’m a privileged person. I grew up the poorest kid in a middle class neighborhood called Varsity Acres, which means that I felt like white trash, but we were doing a lot better than a lot of other people. I would see that from time to time, like when I went to visit my buddy Ian who had moved to the community of Whitehorn. Whitehorn was a very different place with a very different mix of people. I found it refreshing to go there and visit him because it reminded me that my city was much more diverse than what I saw every day.
Poor though we felt, we still lived in a middle class neighborhood. The police would drive around sometimes, and if you were out late at night, they would generally ask if you needed a hand with anything. When I hit my early twenties, the tone changed a bit. Nobody was really out walking in my neighborhood at 4 in the morning, and the automatic assumption was that we must be up to no good. My buddy Ian and I (Ian being the kid who had moved to Whitehorn, as luck would have it) were at this point roommates and insomniacs, so we would regularly be out at that time of night.
I remember one night in particular, the cops tried to tell us that two people matching our descriptions had just robbed the Rogers Video. Now, at the time I was about 6’2″ and weighed a whopping 130 pounds. Ian was a pudgy metalhead kid, 6’2″ and 300 pounds. I laughed and told them they should arrest us, because there are two other people who look like us walking around at 4 in the morning in this neighborhood, I’d eat my hat.
As a kid, even as a young adult, that’s what I thought getting hassled by the cops was.
A few years later, I was living in Whitehorn myself. I was in college, married, struggling, and working full time at an arcade in Marlborough Mall. One night, the arcade got robbed. I’ve blogged about that here before, but I didn’t mention the aftermath. The cops showed up and were absolutely kind to me, helping me clean the pepper spray out of my eyes, calming me down, talking me through everything… they were great. At the time I said I thought the person who robbed me was Hispanic or Lebanese because of the accent (it had traces of both), but a couple of days later I called back and said that I thought I was wrong. I thought it was a white kid, because the voice was a little too Cheech And Chong when it was Mexican, and a little too Ahmed The Dead Terrorist when it was Lebanese. I didn’t remember noticing the color of the skin peering out from under the balaklava, so I was uncertain.
A few months later, cops called up and asked if I’d look through mug shots. I explained that I didn’t see the guy; I literally had a few seconds of visual contact before I was blinded, and he was wearing gloves and a balaklava. They insisted, saying I should look at the eyes and see if anything clicks. I agreed, and they popped over.
Their book was full of mug shots of black kids. I kept expecting to leaf through and find a page of white kids, or maybe Hispanic or Lebanese kids, but there were none. The cops just stared at me, so I said, “I don’t think the guy was black.” This was not what they wanted to hear. They accused me of changing my story, which of course I had done, but only to try to make it more accurate upon reflection. Then they accused me of misleading their investigation. Then they said I was in on it.
I was some kind of pissed off. I get what they were doing, but it was bullshit, and I let them know. But you know what? This would never have happened if I had been robbed in a rich, white neighborhood. They were leaning on me the easiest way they could to see if I would let something slip. I had nothing to let slip, of course. They hadn’t investigated anything. They probably hadn’t even read the case. They knew a guy got robbed, and so they brought over the black kids book. When the guy didn’t find him, they leaned on him.
That’s probably business as usual for these guys. For me, it was stunning. I had grown up around cops who treated you with respect. The cops who had helped me that night had been such nice men. And then I realized that it was all a question of what hat I was wearing. When I was the middle class kid, they would joke around with me and offer me a ride home. When I was the victim, they would comfort me. But when I was the poor kid living hand to mouth who didn’t play ball, they didn’t give a shit about me.
I’d like to say that I think that’s the exception to the rule. I’d also like to say that I’m rich beyond my wildest dreams, but I don’t want to lie to you. I’ve met more cops, and I’ve seen the same thing from them time and time again. And I’m a privileged white kid. I can’t imagine how much harder it must be when you’re in the same neighborhood, but your skin happens to be darker or your clothes impart your religion. And that makes me sick.
I’m not saying all cops are like this. I don’t know all the cops. I’m sure that some of them are great people who wouldn’t stoop. But I also know that a lot of them do.