St. Thomas Law Review

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My whole life I was taught that all men are not created equal. This was beaten into my brain by my loving mother who just wanted me to be safe. You see, this message was part of what most young Black men hear when given “the talk.” I remember multiple variations of the talk given to me throughout my early childhood. However, a variation of the talk was most vividly remembered while taking our dog for a walk around my neighborhood with my mother. At the time, we lived in a suburban area, in a predominantly White neighborhood of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I remember seeing a squirrel in a neighbor’s yard and our feisty rescue terrier taking off after it. Naturally, I gave chase as well, running into the back of our neighbor’s yard. Instantly, my mother began to yell “what are you doing!” Me, not thinking I had done anything wrong, justified my actions by answering “getting our dog” with a confused look on my face. After retrieving the dog, my mom went on to speak about how I could not do the same things that my White friends, John, Steven, Bobby, could do because I was Black. White citizens and police often see Black men as, in the words of Jay Z, “[g]uilty until proven innocent.” This is something that Trayvon Martin eventually would lose his life over. Four years later, this talk would hit me differently. I was eighteen years old and a senior at a majority Black public high school. Because I worked hard throughout my first three years of high school, I had the ultimate privilege of a Louisiana senior student, and that was getting out of school after only half a day. I was allowed to leave school early daily because of the number of credits I earned. I vividly remember one day in February of 2007. I remember it because I received a driving ticket for speeding in a school zone while being late for school. Because of that incident, my mother justly punished me by taking away my driving privileges for a month. At the time, I was a product of busing––my house was not in walking distance from my school. During my punishment, my grandfather would pick me up when I was dismissed; however, he did not show on this day. Students who were dismissed early had fifteen minutes to leave campus or they would be forced to stay in detention until regular dismissal. After fifteen minutes, I began to walk to my aunt’s house; she lived about five miles away. After walking nearly half a mile, a fellow minority classmate, Adrian, saw me and offered me a ride. As I approached his car, I remember him telling me to hurry because the police “be tripping.” I remember thinking, why would they “trip” when we had done nothing wrong? Less than thirty seconds later, red and blue lights flashed, and police pulled us over. Soon after the car came to a stop, the police, using a megaphone, ordered both of us to exit the vehicle. Then, we were ordered to place our hands on the hood of the car. The officers informed us that we were leaving from the direction of the (majority Black) school, and they noticed Adrian picking me up. The officers stated that they believed we were skipping school. Later, I would learn in my Criminal Procedure class about Whren v. United States, a case that explains how motive is not important when an officer makes a stop. I would also learn through Illinois v. Wardlow, that police could create reasonable suspicion out of almost anything, including running after seeing cops. Soon after, the officers demanded that we remove everything in our pockets as they proceeded to pat us down. The Supreme Court, in Terry v. Ohio, manufactured this tool that allows officers to conduct these searches with any amount of reasonable suspicion. When the officers stated their belief that we were skipping, I informed them that we were seniors and only attended school for half days. We also provided them with our IDs and informed them that we were over the age of eighteen, which meant that even if we did wish to skip school, we could do so without breaking the law. They answered, “well, we’re just going to call the school and be sure.” Confused, I picked up my cellphone while lying on the car’s hood, in an attempt to call my mother. Instantly, one of the officers scolded me for making a sudden movement. Everything I was told from “the talk” went out of the window. Now, I was infuriated. Here I was, embarrassed on the side of the road, while other classmates and peers drove past us. I was spread out with my pockets emptied; while the police fondled and yelled at me for going after my own phone! There isn’t enough emphasis I can add on these pages to communicate my feelings in that moment and yet I try. Then, I verbally “went off” on these officers. I told them how I felt; and that they were being “assholes” for no reason. The moment my friend and I showed our IDs, we dispelled their suspicion about any crimes; thus, the moment we disproved the officers’ theory, we had a right to be released. Adrian told me, “chill out, we’re good.” However, my friend’s attempt to calm me down proved unsuccessful. I continued my verbal assaults and asked if I was going to get shot for playing with my phone, which they could clearly see, and had already handled. I still remember the look on one of the officer’s face. He knew I was right. From that point on, he did not say another word and did not attempt to restrict my words or hand motions because he knew I was justified. However, it was not until his partner received clearance from the school that he would let us go. After a short time, we were released with no apologies since the officers were “just doing their jobs.” My mom used the “the talk” to adequately prepare me for the injustices I would experience just because I am a Black man. However, there is no talk that could prepare me for the trauma these police dealings would have on me almost fifteen years later. Even more alarming is that, even after six years as a veteran cop myself, these traumas continue to exist for me.