Being a cartoonist I couldn’t help but see the irony. Wouldn’t it be weird if I were to die of bullet wounds here on American soil instead of the battleground I once fought on in war torn Korea? However, at the moment I was staring down the business end of police service revolvers and my son and I were well aware we’d best not make any sudden moves. I was proud of my son for his behavior. Like most black fathers I had instructed both my sons how to behave when confronted by police officers. Again, I’ll repeat, when - not if. Because it’s guaranteed if you’re a young black man in America this is going to happen one day. On this particular day my visit to the bank had unexpected consequences. Being a law abiding citizen I never noticed the patrol cars or the police helicopter tracking me on my way home. It was only after pulling into my driveway that I noticed two police officers with weapons drawn. Was I somewhat annoyed? The answer is yes. Was I surprised, you might ask? The answer is no. You see, this was not the first time I’ve had a confrontation with the law. But, more on that later.
My son and I stepped out of the vehicle with hands in the air. If you’re a black man in America, you already know the drill so we complied with everything the officers requested. When checking my drivers license, the policemen seemed surprised to learn I had driven to my own home. Really? Where else would I go? I’m sure my neighbors were surprised by the mid-morning activity. Usually, the only things of interest that time of day are joggers and ladies walking their dogs. I’m happy to say I took this opportunity to have a firm yet respectful conversation about what had just taken place. To their credit, the young officers apologized and returned to their vehicles. The copter overhead, thankfully buzzed off as well. As you can imagine, this was another case of mistaken identify. I know this because my son and I spotted the rather suspicious individuals in the bank parking lot moments earlier. Not only did my son and I not fit the description of the two tall, burly men of color, one of them even sported a Mohawk. As the culprits quickly fled the scene, the two patrol vehicles and a police helicopter took off after the wrong guys. That’s because my son and I “matched” the description of the two baddies. Except for the color of our skin, we looked nothing like the two individuals they were attempting to apprehend.
Before you think this is a diatribe against law enforcement let me remind you I have nothing but the highest respect for the brave men and women who daily put their lives on the line. Plus, our film company produced educational media dealing with the policeman in the community and we had the full support of the department while doing so. Finally, two of our filmmakers were former police officers in the Los Angeles Police Department. If you’re still with me I think you already know where I’m going with this.
I’m guessing I’m probably one of the most benign men you’ll ever meet. If you saw me on the street I doubt you’d find me threatening and I’d like to think I hardly fit the description of a hardened felon. However, on more than one occasion police officers have had me in their sights and I’m just a guy who makes cartoons for a living. Of course, I know the reason why this kind of thing happens and I suspect you do as well. The police officers who leveled their service revolvers at me didn’t see a cartoonist. Hell, they didn’t even see an individual. They saw a black man. And that, my friends is a problem that is uniquely American. I still can’t believe we had this discussion over thirty years ago and I’m sad to say very little has changed in that time. We may have a person of color in the White House but young black men are still considered a threat in this society. And, should you be considered a threat that means you’re also a target. Wait a second! Did I say, young? Let me make a quick correction because I’m in my late seventies and apparently I still scare the cops. I think we know the answer to our current problem. It’s time to end the labels, colors and profiles. It’s time to begin thinking of each other as individuals and not members of a group. It’s time to stop fearing young black men because until we have the personal courage to do so, nothing will change.
Finally, may I make one personal request? Will all you police officers stop pointing your damn weapons at me?