Monday, October 22, 2007

My Dream All Too Real Dream

This is a true story of a dream that I had last night. The dream had actual people and places that are very familiar to me which increased the power of this dream to me and the underlying message.

In the dream I had traveled to Philadelphia, my home town. As usual I stayed at my parent’s house and called up my high school buddy Jeff to hang out with him on one of the nights that I was there. As usual we caught up on life, our wives and and I got an update on all of the high school and college friends in our network.

After a night of good conversation and a few beers we head home in his car. We are driving through West Philly. We get to the corner of 61st and Jefferson. I see all of the buildings clearly – the Simpson-Fletcher church on the right, the corner store across 61st street. Looking left – the houses going down the hill on 61st street and behind us all of the houses that I know on Jefferson Street going east. As we stop at the stop sign my friend Jeff slightly rear ends a car that is in front of us despite my shouts of “Watch it! Watch it! What are you doing man?”. He yells out “Oh Shit!”.

Just then things heat up because right behind us happens to be a Philadelphia police patrol car. My friend backs up as he attempts to flee the situation. I see that he is about to ram the cop. The cop backs up to avoid being hit. For some strange reason both cars back up one full block. Past “Poochies” house on the right, past Edgewood Street in the middle of the block, all the way back to 60th street. The cop still didn’t turn on his lights.

I am yelling to my friend Jeff “What are you doing man?!? That’s a cop!! What are you doing!?”. He stops the car as if he has come to his senses – right at the corner of 60th and Jefferson where I used to catch the #46 SEPTA bus to school sometimes. I jump out of the car thinking that everything will be resolved on the spot. I did not realize how wrong I was.

My friend Jeff speeds away down Jefferson Street fleeing the cop. I am standing in the street distraught and puzzled as to what is going on. The cop doesn’t chase my friend. He gets out of his car and arrests ME as I stand there. I protest saying that I didn’t do anything. I am visiting from Atlanta for a few days. I am as surprised that my friend has acted as he did in response to the cop being behind him.
The cop puts the handcuffs on me and puts me in the back of the patrol car, not believing what I told him. I did have a few beers that night but I can hold my liquor. I was buzzing but not drunk. As I sat in the back of the patrol car attempting to understand my friend Jeff’s actions as the police car drove me to the station – I remember that my friend Jeff told me a few months earlier that he had recently gotten a DUI and lost his drivers license for 60 days. The tough new rules that Pennsylvania had implemented shows little tolerance for drunk driving. During the time of his suspended driving privileges his wife drove him back and forth to work. I have no doubt that he caught a lot of grief during these few difficult days with her reminding him how much he had screwed up and inconvenienced her because of his irresponsible actions. I guess I did not know the breaking point of my lifelong friend when pressure upon him with the threat of this happening to him once again in less than a year. Unfortunately with his actions tonight he is digging a much deeper hole for himself than he had before.

When I get to the police station 3 White cops take me in to a holding room. The dialogue between me and them makes it clear to me how much I am in a different world than I am used to. My trip up to the modern day North turned out to be eerily similar to the experiences of those before me who traveled South and had a run in with the law during the days of Jim Crow.

I told the cops that I didn’t do anything wrong. I am visiting from Atlanta. I had a few drinks that evening. I am totally surprised with my friends actions. I told them that I have a good job, I am a married man. I have never been arrested before. As I continue talking about how much of a model citizen that I am and how “good I have it” in the South one of the cops say to me “I thought the South was all about bare floor boards and shotgun shacks?”. I realized that in their listening to me – my situation in Atlanta, my diction and my golf shirt, slacks and shoes that their detention of me has become increasingly about “breaking a Negro that thinks beyond his place” than it is about any crime that I may have committed.

There are three White cops. The arresting officer is the more arrogant, aggressive and jealous of them all. The second cop is the weak cop who is a follower of the first. All that he does is in laughing agreement of the first. The third cop is blond and overweight. He is more quiet and reasoning than the other two. They all go back and forth asking me about Atlanta. The arresting officer asks me “So have you had any run ins with the ‘Police down in Atlanta?” I tell him “I don’t live in Atlanta. I live in Fayetteville. We have more ‘Sheriffs’ patrolling our streets”. In response to the "verbal edge" that I put in my voice he and the others figured that I was sassing them. They all laughed at my correction of their friend.

I told them that I have no criminal record. Look into my wallet. I just got my gun owners permit renewed for the Sheriff's office. They took my finger prints and put them into an electronic database. I just had a background check done with the Fayette County Sheriff as a condition of me participating in a mentoring program. "I have nothing to hide", I said. The lead guy takes my wallet out of my pocket and throw my credit cards to the floor as he shuffles through the contents, looking for my gun owners permit that has my finger prints stamped on it. I get angered by the disrespect shown to my property. This is what he was intending to do - get a violent physical response from me even though I was still in handcuffs and leg irons.

The lead cop walks out of the room along with the flunky. The fat, blond cop remains behind and is sitting next to me. I try to reason with him telling him that I have never been in trouble with the law before. I have cooperated with everything that you all have asked. You have the wrong guy locked up.

I woke up at the point due to the power of the dream.

In thinking about it all – I realized that THEY saw me as yet another Black man on the streets of Philadelphia, possibly riding in a stolen car, trying to run away from the cops in the big ‘cat and mouse’ game that they play every day in West Philly in particular. They had allowed their personal insecurities and jealousies to get in the way of disciplined police conduct. Since they believed that I was better than them based on how good I have it in “Atlanta” it was their goal to break down this Black man in front of them who thought that he was better than the average Negro that they are used to dealing with day in and day out. It was not “me” the full fledged individual with his own unique history and qualifications that they were arresting. It was the stereotypical Black man on the streets that they were arresting. My outer shell allowed them to go on their preexisting biases.

Where as most of my people would ONLY go after the “racist” cops for stereotyping me it would be unrealistic to fail to note the behavior of the individuals that they deal with on a daily basis who work to make the “stereotype” TRUE. Certainly there is a two way set of violations that need to be addressed for the problem to be solved and thus reduce the chances of me and other Black males being entrapped in a snare that we don't belong in.

On that very same block about 25 years ago there was indeed a Black male in a stolen car that came speeding around the corner and crashed into several cars on the left hand side of the street thus causing monetary damage to at least 5 individuals who lived on the street that were also Black. He got out of the car and ran. The police had to chase after him. I recall the trail of blood that was on the ground leading to his trail down Edgewood Street because his mouth was bleeding having hit the steering wheel after the impact from the crash.

The saying "No matter how educated you are still a N_____ to some" might be true. But it is also true that those who wear the same uniform (skin color) that you do need to realize the responsibility that they have in upholding certain standards lest everyone else who wears the uniform bears the negative burden that they have created. A racist cop can be dealt with via departmental policy. What can we do to reform a rogue Black man? (Seems to me preventing him from becoming one in the first place is key).

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