One Person’s Experience

Folks, the below email was forwarded to me from a friend of mine. It is an email sent by her son to their family. It is posted here with permission. I know the writer.

One of the (several) sentences that is a gut punch for me is: “…fails to capture the everyday indignities that are never charged or captured or written down.

Hi Family,
I thought I would share this with you, because I think often the shame that comes with being heavily policed contributes to a silence. Although some of you know about these incidents, I’m sure a lot of you don’t. I think following the killing of one person by the police, it can be easy to see it as an isolated incident or accident. My hope is that my email sheds light, at least from one of your loved one’s personal experiences, about how much of a fixture the police are in the lives of black and brown men in particular. I have been stopped many more times than this, but these are some incidents that stand out.

11 year old: Handcuffed and questioned at for skateboarding in a parking lot—let go, no charges, no incident number.

14 years old: Handcuffed and put in the back of a car for supposed shoplifting at a Walgreens—let go, no charges, no incident number.

16 years old: Handcuffed, punched, sat on the side of the 94 highway for an hour with no coat on in January, while officers searched my mom’s minivan—no charges, no ticket, no explanation, no incident number.

17 years old: Pulled over for broken taillight in NE Minneapolis, removed from the car, searched splayed out on the hood of the car. When the officer asked me where I was coming from, I lifted my hand to point to my friends house down the block. The officer grabbed my hand, twisted it behind my back, and slammed my head on the car, and told me if I moved again he’d kick my teeth in. I was put in the back of the car, questioned as to why I was wearing a hat (Twins Hat) in my driver’s license photo. He asked me what gang I was in. He let me go after they ran my license and searched for warrants. No ticket, no incident number.

18 years old: Pulled over for “failing to signal a lane change.” Pulled out of the car at gunpoint, handcuffed, placed in the back of the cruiser while he ran my license and then nothing came up. Let go, no ticket, no incident number.

19 years old: Biking home from work at night, a cop car pulled in front of me suddenly and almost knocked me off my bike. The officers stopped me, frisked me and searched my bag without consent, and said they were investigating a stolen bike report. I told them to check the number (it was a bike I had received as a birthday present years earlier). They ran it, let me go.

20 years old: Violently arrested while with a friend in Minneapolis by two undercover officers. Punched, kicked, hit repeatedly in the head. The officers put the handcuffs on so tightly that I lost all feeling in my hands, and I begged them to loosen the cuffs from the back seat of the car. The officers had punched my friend in the stomach repeatedly until he urinated on himself. The officers drove us around for 4 hours, so that our Thursday arrest became a Friday arrest on a holiday weekend. Spent 72 hours in jail, where at one point I was put into a room with a bunch of other Latinos slated for “deportation proceedings.” I didn’t regain feeling in my hands for several months, and developed an intermittent hand tremor that continues to this day.

23 year old: Christmas break, drove to a party at my friend’s house. Ipop had just died, I had just gotten back from Rome and hadn’t processed the death, and I was really distraught. I drank too much, and called my mom and Paul to pick me up. While waiting for her outside of the apartment, I was weeping in the parking lot. A police car drove, ordered me onto the ground, handcuffed me face-down, as I tried to explain that—no—I wasn’t breaking into cars, I was simply at a party, got drunk, and really sad because my grandfather died. My mom and Paul showed up, and I was released.

28 years old: At a bar with Lizzy during Christmas break (before we were dating), an old white man walked up to me and started asking “where are you from?” I said I grew up in Minneapolis. He said “where are you really from” and I repeated myself, to which he replied, “I know where you’re from you fucking Afghanistani ISIS…” I didn’t tell him I’m Mexican. He proceeded to tell me that he was off-duty MPD, and that it would be no big deal for him to shoot me in the parking lot, or to call his officer friends to do it for him. I told Lizzy we needed to leave right away, and walked her home. An hour later I came back, and from half a block away I saw him pacing in the parking lot. I panicked. I called 911, who redirected my call to the NE precinct. They told me “anyone can say they’re a cop, we can’t just come to every call.” They hung up as I was speaking. I waited for half an hour until I watched him get in a car and drive away. I got into my car, and had a severe panic attack.

This is just some of my experiences with the Minneapolis Police Department—not the St. Paul Police Department, not the state troopers, not NYPD or LAPD—some of those which are even more traumatic. I think in the news or in media there is often a discussion of disparities in arrests or deaths, but that fails to capture the everyday indignities that are never charged or captured or written down.

I would ask you not to reply to this email with an expression of sympathy, because that is not what I need. I think in the past years, as many of you have said to me “be safe” in protesting against this and other related police misconduct, injustice, I have been curious about why you thought I was less safe surrounded by protestors than I was simply walking or driving around the city in my every day life. Clearly, it’s because the protests are visible and receive attention. 

So again, I ask you not to express sympathy or sorrow. I don’t want you to ask me what you can do to make it feel better. I just want you to know that this is the world that I lived in—in the same Twin Cities which is often touted for it’s high standard of living and progressivism, which in fact has some of the highest racial disparities and growing segregation in the country. I don’t know if you’ve watched the video of what happened to George Floyd, and I don’t know if I would recommend it. It is brutal and barbaric—to see an officer continue to kneel on the neck of the lifeless body of a man for four minutes after he has already stopped pleading for his life, to continue to kneel on his neck even as the EMT tries to take his pulse, and to see his fellow officers fail to so much as flinch. But, I wonder, if you see that video, if you would ever be prepared for it to be me. And what would you do if it was?

I am horribly saddened and distraught to see what happened to Lake Street and University, two streets which were formative to my younger years. But if you see what happened to George Floyd, and you can imagine what has been happening for decades, then I think you will understand what is going on.

I have no broader point. Hope you are all well. Feel free to share any of this reflection out.