David had spent the summer working for his uncle. Every morning at 5:30 his uncle would pick him up and out they went for a day full of trimming trees, raking leaves and cutting lawns. David would come home exhausted from working hours under the summer sun but was re-energized by the thoughts of excitement he would have whenever he thought about enter his first year of college, something that he and his family have been planning for his whole life. Throughout the week he would get text from his friends who would send him pictures of their intoxicated summer outings, inviting him to hang out with them. He would thank them and would remind them that he had work the next day but that he looks forward to celebrating the end of summer with them soon.
It was a week before he went of to college, he had decided to take the week to prepare his belongings and to finally spend some time with his friends. He texted his friends stating that he was free from his work responsibilities now and that he wanted to join them tonight for the free summer concert. As he was getting ready for the evenings festivities his mother stopped by his room and gave him a hug, reminding him of how proud she and everyone was of him, reminding him also that he was about to become the first in his family to go to college. He thanked his mother for all the hard work and sacrifice she had put in to help him get to this point.
What an amazing concert it was. David and his friends had such a wonderful time talking, laughing and dancing together. After the concert David and his friends decided to meet at their favorite burger joint to continue enjoying the evening together. David’s uncle had let him borrow the work truck for the evening and he had given his best friend a ride. They were on their way to meet the others, talking about their upcoming college plans when David realized that he had taken the wrong exit of the freeway. He decided to look up the address on his phone GPS, which lead his truck to swerve. Suddenly a police siren that seemed to come out of nowhere blared loudly at David while a loud robotic-like voice asked him to pull over through a loudspeaker. An immediate jolt of fear and panic punched through David’s stomach. His thoughts went immediately to when he had heard about a kid in his neighborhood being shot last week by the police during a traffic stop. He thought about his mother and the pain she would endure if anything would happen to him.
The truck came to a slow stop. He put his hands on the steering wheel like his uncle had instructed him to do if he had ever been stopped by the police while driving. His breathing grew heavy, a slow pant, as he watched the policemen through the rear-view window getting out of their car, walking towards him while holding their holsters. David turns to look at his best friend, notices that he was trembling, and a tear falls down his cheek looking as though he had seen a ghost. David remembers how just an hour ago they were talking about the kid who got shot by the police and at that moment he knew exactly what had put the fear of God in his best friend. A knock on the trucks window pulled David back toward his pounding heart, a muffled voice was ordering him to lower it. He freezes as though he had not heard the request from the officer. The almost crying pleads from his best friend to lower the window broke his frozen state. “Have you been drinking”? “No-o officer”. “License and registration please, you know you swerved back there”. “Um, uh, yeah, I was looking at my ph-phone, um…” He takes a deep breath. “What’s wrong”? asked the officer, “You seem nervous”. David held the steering wheel tighter and stared forward more intentionally. He felt his body trembling, he tried to stop himself from shaking but the more he tried the more he shook. “I need put your hands up and slowly get out of the vehicle”. David was so frightened that his body did not respond to any direction given to him from his brain or the officer. “Get out of the car right now”! Next thing David knew a gun was pointed an inch away from his head, the officer was now yelling even louder at him to get out of the car. David thought of his mother and began to talk to her in his head, saying, “I’m sorry mama, I wanted so badly to make you proud”. He took a deep breath, reached for the car door handle as the shouting intensified and turned into screaming. The sounds of gunshots rang out in the neighborhood sky, time stopped, everything seemed in slow motion, it was the moment right between life and death.
The police report stated that the assailant had reached for the police officers’ gun and that a bag full of Methamphetamines was found in the truck.
People of color experience discrimination at every stage of the criminal justice system and are more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, convicted, harshly sentenced and saddled with a lifelong criminal record. This is particularly the case for drug law violations. (Drug Policy Alliance, http://www.drugpolicy.org/issues/race-and-drug-war)
Black people and Native Americans are more likely to be killed by law enforcement than other racial or ethnic groups. They are often stereotyped as being violent or addicted to alcohol and other drugs. Experts believe that stigma and racism may play a major role in police-community interactions. (Drug Policy Alliance, http://www.drugpolicy.org/issues/race-and-drug-war)
-Alejandra Luna, LCSW