Monday, July 1, 2013

Welcome to the World (A Moment Without White Privilege)

  Trigger Warnings: Racism

   The Trayvon Martin trial is in full swing.  It is rapidly becoming a fiasco and I fear whether he is going to get justice.  However I am not blogging about the trial today.  Whenever I see his name or hear about the trial I think back to something that happened to me shortly after Thanksgiving last December.

   It was unseasonably warm and I was returning home from an unusual day shift at around 6pm.  (I usually work nights).  I was phoning my aunt, walking in my neighborhood towards the house I live in.  Its a "good" neighborhood.  Ethnically diverse but financially affluent.  Race means not so much as your job title here.  Reverend, Rabbi, Doctor, Lawyer, Judge are the kind of folks you find here.  I would guess the average property at about $1.5 to 2 million.

   I rent the 2nd floor of a beautiful house here from an elderly preacher.  His son rents the bottom floor, and he lives here, though he is often in Coney Island where his storm battered church is.

   This area was a target for vandals and thieves in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  In the 12 days we had no power here, many people who made the choice to leave their property were robbed blind.  Most people in this neighborhood stayed though, and an inpromptu "neighborhood watch" was formed.  People checking on each other, staying awake and checking on unusual vehicles and people walking around (if you could see them....there was absolutely no light).

   Twice in that 12 day period, both times before I returned home from work there was an encroachment on the property by an unexpected party of people or a vehicle.  Both times a flashlight to the face expedited their retreat before and defense had to be made.  Tensions and anxieties were not unfounded.

   About 3 weeks after power was restored I was approaching my home at an hour I am not usually around.  It was unseasonably warm (50ish) but breezy.  I was wearing dark pants and a large cotton hoodie with the hood up.  Between the curb of the road and the sidewalk are some ornamental boulders.  Large enough to sit on.  My cell phone didn't work well in the house and it was about as nice a day as we were going to have for the next 5 months in all likelihood.  So I sat down and continued my conversation.   As I talked to my aunt, a car left the driveway of my home.

   My family loves hearing from me, even though I am about as inept on a phone as many Autistics seem to describe themselves.  My phone vocabulary consists of "yes, no and uhuh" and it takes time for me to process the other end of the conversation.  What I am telling you is that this was neither a loud or passionate conversation and I had little to no body language.  I was sitting on a rock in front of my home speaking softly, giving 1 or 2 word replies. 

   Two police cars pull up to me and officers get out with dogs on leashes.  I did not end my conversation because it did not even remotely occur to me that they were there to arrest me.  They approached me with the dogs and asked me for identification.  I ended my conversation and provided it to them.  I asked them why they were here and they told me that someone had reported that I was trespassing on the property.

   I told them that I lived on the property and I had not yet even set foot on it, I was sitting on this rock the whole time.  At this point the police figured out that I was no threat, but they had me wait with an officer while the other officer entered the house and spoke with the caller from within the house.

   The caller was the preacher's elderly wife.  She apologized and the police let me go.  I was rather upset...borderline meltdown, but I have enough restraint than to raise my voice to my landlord's wife.  She had not actually looked out the window to see who it was near the property.  Her son who rents the bottom floor had called her.  He was in the car that departed shortly after I had sat on the rock.  He told her someone suspicious was on the property and she panicked and called 911.

   I was upset.  I do not like to have cops and german shepards in my face for no reason.  I left the house again and called my aunt and screamed obscenities while stomping down the road and had a total meltdown on the street.

   Later that night, the son called me.  I asked him how he did not know it was me on the rock, I sit on the rock when I make calls almost all the time!  He said he car he left in had tinted windows, he couldn't see my face because of the hood and he thought I was Black.

   So a Black man sitting on a rock doing absolutely nothing with a hoodie on in a working wealthy class neighborhood warrants being approached by 2 armed police officers with attack dogs.

   I told my Black coworkers about this the next day.  "Welcome to my world" is the general response I got.

  Perhaps I haven't told you the saddest part of this story though.  The preacher and family are also Black.