I’m not sure when I realized my distrust of police officers. Maybe it was at about 12 or 13, when my best friend and I had to fight off older boys who tried to steal our bikes with a baseball bat. It was broad daylight on a busy street, but Iâ€™m not sure if the cops who rolled past saw the young thief who brandished a Louisville Slugger. Perhaps they shared his lack of concern for our lives. Either way, my boy knew it wouldnâ€™t matter. â€œDonâ€™t look at them,â€ he said. â€œThey ainâ€™t gonâ€™ help you.â€ They didnâ€™t, so we defended ourselves at the risk of our own safety.
It might have been one of the times when I was jumped, or had a gun pulled on me, or otherwise had to fight or flee within a mile of the house my mother had saved her whole life to buy. It could have been the time I was chased through a Sears by a crew that didnâ€™t appreciate the shade of blue on my jacket when I tried to visit a girlfriend in their projects. It mightâ€™ve been one of the times we ducked shells spit indiscriminately from passing cars, the kinds of bullets said to have no names on them but which always find their purpose in the soft flesh of young, Black bodies. Sometimes the cops showed up, sometimes they didnâ€™t. But when they did, we were never treated with respect or empathy. And it isnâ€™t that theyâ€™re balancing their contempt with effective crime solving, at least not where Iâ€™m fromâ€”years later, we still donâ€™t know who shot my best friendâ€™s father trying to jack him for some beer, or who let off the round of bullets that came through my grandmotherâ€™s windowsill and hit her in the hip. Both survived their wounds but their assailants never did a day.