While returning home one night several weeks ago, my friend and I found ourselves circling the block of our Capitol Hill neighborhood in search of a parking space. As we exited the fire lane beside our home to try yet another street, a police officer turned on his car's flashers, cut us off and told my friend who was driving to switch off our car and get his hands on the dashboard.

As the officer approached the car with his weapon drawn at his side, he noticed that the only other passenger was me. He could not hide his surprise at seeing a white female.

The officer did not ask for registration or ID, or complain about a traffic violation or a problem with the car. So, we asked him what the problem was. The officer's response was to tell my friend to shut up.

"Don't move, keep your hands on the dashboard where I can see them," he said.

Meanwhile, a neighbor (who I define as someone living in our neighborhood, not someone who has attempted to know and share his community with others) stood pointing from across the street and hollering something like, "That's them." Suddenly, we were surrounded by four police cars with sirens wailing and lights flashing and six or seven police officers.

After about 10 minutes, one officer who was newly on the scene explained that four black males had been reported as suspicious by the finger-pointer across the street.

To no avail, we attempted to prove that we lived in a nearby building, but the officer who had stopped us wouldn't let us speak, loudly claiming to the other officers that the driver was "getting hot."

As the white passenger, I was ignored. Did that mean that only the black male driver was "suspicious"?

Eventually, police concluded that we did live in the neighborhood and had no outstanding warrants for our arrest.

I know this is "Murder City U.S.A." and that statistics support the case that some black males are not law-abiding citizens. I also accept that the original white officer who stopped us was alone when he first approached and perhaps afraid for his life.

What I cannot accept was his rude and demeaning manner. Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty? A simple explanation of what was going on and verification of our addresses would have at least confirmed that we belonged in the neighborhood.

As it happened I had to force our IDs on the officer. His response was to call the IDs in. By this time, fear could not justify his bad behavior, because three other police cars were on the scene.

This was not the first time my friend has been pulled over for no other reason that I can determine except that he is black. Nor is it the first time he has been ordered about like a criminal. But unlike this scene, he had always, eventually, at least gotten an apology or an explanation. Not this time.

Instead, in a sarcastic tone, the officer said, "Here, I'm going to help you {to file a complaint}. I'll give you my card with my name and badge number on it." If only the officer had acknowledged his error or showed some common courtesy, this would have been no worse than another unfortunate incident.

As for my neighbors, I can only ask that before accusing two strangers in a car in the dark, they look twice. I do not look like a black male, nor were there four persons in the car. My friend and I had had a lovely day, celebrating our mutual birthdays and decorating the Christmas tree. We shouldn't have had to endure such harassment and humiliation.

Getting to know your immediate neighbors, or at least recognize them regardless of race, can begin to heal the hurt between the races and in this case, between neighbors. To survive these times we must come together, not further divide.

-- Dawn Burrows