2020 is fucking wild. A pandemic is spreading across the world. Cities are burning across the United States. Militarized police forces are pushing unarmed demonstrators through city streets. But grocery day is coming up soon, so that’s cool.
Our system is broken. Through my life, I’ve witnessed and experienced events that have shed a small amount of light on just how broken things are. I’ve often debated writing about these experiences. But I usually find myself hesitant. Who am I to speak about any of this?
When I was younger, I lashed out at what I considered to be an unfair system. I tagged a cop car when I was 12 or 13. I moved to walls and freight trains shortly after that. I wrote graffiti for the better part of a decade. Part compulsion, part frustration, part youthful rebellion. I still don’t fully understand my motivation behind it. Nor do I regret it.
As I got older, I channeled my frustration from outward defiance into self-preservation. I’ve always tried to live as authentically as I could. But I’ve also been hesitant to share parts of my past that might not reflect well on a job application. And being a white male, I don’t want to speak out of turn from a position of naive privilege. So I’ve erred on the side of caution and kept (mostly) quiet.
But keeping quiet has never sat right with me. I’m privileged to have a voice, even if I don’t always know what to say. I don’t know what being an ally means right now. I don’t know what I can do. But at the very least, I can stop keeping quiet. I can share my personal experiences that have in-part shaped my worldview.
My personal experiences pale in comparison to larger systemic issues in society. But at the very least, perhaps I can shed some light on small injustices that take place in our country every day.
When I was in middle school, we had “Field Day” at the end of each school year. Each class competed in various events on the school grounds. One year, my friend and I had bandanas on (don’t hate, I listened to a lot of 2pac). While I was standing next to my friend, a teacher told him to take off his bandana. He protested but ultimately took it off.
I couldn’t understand why the teacher was telling him to take his bandana off. I was standing right next to him wearing a bandana of the same color. She never said a word to me.
Was it because I was white and he was black? I don’t know. But all these years later, that memory has stuck with me. It made an impression.
When I was in high school, I went to a house party (well, a few actually…). At this particular party, a fight broke out, as they sometimes did. The fight ended with no serious injuries on either side. I didn’t think much of it.
Later on, a friend of mine got a summons to appear in court. He was being charged with assault. It was from one of the kids at the party. He was pressing charges against my friend. It seemed bizarre to me, because I witnessed the fight and my friend didn’t play a role in it. In fact, my friend had used my cellphone to call his girlfriend for a ride home before the fight even started. I distinctly remember that.
My friend went to court. The case went to trial. I got called as a witness. I took the stand and nervously shared my recollection of the night. I think it was the first time I ever spoke into a microphone. I was nervous as hell. But I was honest.
I told them I witnessed the fight. I told them my friend was not present at the time of the fight. Although my voice wavered, I felt I had done my part. Reasonable doubt, right?
It wasn’t enough. The court found my testimonial unreliable. And just like that, my friend was found guilty and was locked up. I couldn’t understand it.
I should note, my friend was a person-of-color with a court appointed defense attorney. And the kid pressing charges was white with parents who could afford a personal lawyer.
Which of these factors played into the guilty verdict? I don’t know. Again, I’m left only with speculation. Regardless, my friend was put behind bars for something he didn’t do.
When I was 19, I got arrested for vandalism. It was a series of bad decisions. I was in the wrong and I can admit that.
The arresting officer had me cuffed. I was leaning forward against his squad car. He pressured me to talk. I stated my right and my intent to remain silent. He swept my leg out and my face slammed onto the roof of his car. I got a bloody lip.
I kept my mouth shut. What am I gonna do – call the cops?
When I moved out of my parents house, I moved in with two friends and my girlfriend. We moved into old and rundown row house. We fixed it up when we moved in.
After a day of painting our living room, we walked a few blocks over to another friends house. Tired from painting and working on the house earlier, we didn’t stay long and soon made our way back to our new home.
Just before we got to our stoop, a group of drunk college kids yelled at us from across the street. They crossed the street and surrounded us on the street corner. We puffed our chests out. But we knew we were outnumbered.
Heated words gave way to violence as one of the aggressors grabbed one of my friends by the shirt. He pulled him forward and my friend stumbled into the street. As he stumbled, someone else kicked him in the face. And just like that, my friend was out cold in the middle of the street.
My other friend and I fought off blows as we tried to pull him to the sidewalk. Amidst the chaos, I hadn’t noticed two other people rush onto the scene. Everything froze when I heard, “He’s got a gun!”.
I was on the pavement. I looked up, and sure enough, there was a dude in a hoody and jeans, wearing a baseball cap who had a gun on his waist. I thought I was about to get blasted by some drunken college kid.
The original aggressors took off running, dipping into the alley behind our house and off into the night. I was still in the street, dazed, trying to figure out what had just happened. The dude with the gun was still standing over me.
A cop car pulled up on the scene. For the first time in my life, I felt relieved to see a cop car. I still didn’t know at the time that the dude with the gun still standing over me was a plainclothes police officer. As the scene settled, he let me stand up. It wasn’t until uniformed cops arrived on the scene that he identified himself as an officer.
Once I got my bearings, I realized my girlfriend was sitting on our neighbors’ stoop. She was crying. Uniformed police officers were talking with her. When I tried approaching, they wouldn’t let me near her. They refused to tell me what was happening.
A sense of helplessness replaced the short-lived sense of relief I had. It was then I realized our neighbors were helping my girlfriend wash her face. Which made sense when I learned that the other plainclothes police officer had pepper sprayed her.
Yeah. As one of my friends lay unconscious – and while an all out brawl was taking place in the street – a plainclothes cop pepper sprayed my girlfriend.
The plainclothes cops never identified themselves. They never showed a badge. To justify the use of pepper spray, they arrested my girlfriend. Our attackers, the majority of whom were white, were long gone into the night. And my girlfriend – who happens to be a person of color – was booked into jail.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt more helpless in my life. We were beaten and bloody. And just when we thought we were safe, we were instead harassed by the people who were supposed to protect us. Who do you call when the people who are supposed to protect you are the ones harassing you? Who do you go to when the system is rotten to its core? It wasn’t fair. It still isn’t fair.
I’ve been on the other side of this, too. Going back to high school again, I recall a time that I got pulled over for rolling a stop sign on the way to a friend’s party. I was underage and had an open case of beer in the back seat.
The officer shined his light in the car. He saw the case of beer. He asked me where I was going. I told him I was going to a friend’s house. He asked if I was driving home that night. I told him I wasn’t.
He told me to be careful. And he let me go on my way.
Was he giving me a break because he was a “nice guy”? Or because he considered a minor offense not worth his time? Or did he let me go because I’m white? I honestly don’t know. But again, I can’t help but speculate.
When I say ACAB, it’s partially tongue-in-cheek, if not juvenile. But there is a legitimate anger and frustration behind it. I’ve seen firsthand how police are able to abuse their power without repercussion. I’ve seen firsthand how our court systems are stacked against us. And I’ve seen firsthand how racism, sexism, and discrimination permeate the very core of our societal institutions. Which is terrifying when you realize how militarized our police have become.
And these are just my experiences growing up as a white male in the Northeast United States. If I’ve experienced the above, I can’t even fathom what others have experienced. The facade that our system is fair has long been removed. But I’ve felt powerless to change it.
As I watch more and more instances of police violence being recorded and shared, I can’t help but wonder… How many of these incidents aren‘t recorded? How many are swept under the rug? How many victims of a broken and corrupt system are in jail? Or dead?
I’m not advocating for hatred of or violence against police. I’m not advocating for hatred or violence against anyone. We have too much of that already. But I am asking that we all question the reasons behind the frustrations and anger that have mounted across the country. I am asking that we question the system and events that led to this boiling point. How did we get here?
There are years of systemic oppression and abuse that fuel this anger. Peaceful protests and demonstrations against police violence have been occurring forever. Yet the systemic abuse continues.
When peaceful protest fails, what avenues for change are left open? That’s a geniune question that I don’t know the answer to. But I know that something has to change. And I’ll stand by anyone fighting against these injustices.
And through the fight? Always Carry A Bandana.