I grew up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Huntsville, Alabama. By the time I was 16, I was confident that football would be my path to college. The letters and phone calls from college coaches had just begun. All I had to do was perform on the field, keep up my grades, and stay out of trouble.
By “trouble,” I didn’t mean my own behavior. I was afraid of being harassed by the police and afraid that I might find myself in an encounter that spun out of control.
I came of age in the aftermath of the Rodney King incident, which confirmed my fears of the police. But “driving while black” was not simply a problem I saw on the news. It was something I experienced.
One night my junior year, my friends and I had plans to go to the mall and, later, a party in the same part of town. We stopped at a gas station to grab some snacks and fuel before continuing on to the night’s festivities. After I finished filling the tank, I climbed back into the car and got ready to leave. Then I noticed that a black SUV had pulled up close behind us. Another drove up to my left, and another parked in front of my car. I thought I was being carjacked, but who would carjack someone at a well-lit gas station?
When police came filing out of the SUVs, I realized what was going on. “Put your hands where we can see them,” an officer said.
“I’m not putting my hands anywhere,” one of my friends said.
Right then, my future flashed before my eyes. Had all my planning been for naught? Had I exchanged my dreams for a bag of chips and a few gallons of fuel?
I told my friend to be quiet and do as the officer said. When the officer ordered us to get out of the car, we complied. I asked him what was going ...1
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