When I was 18, I was pulled over for failing to use my turn signal. It was 2 a.m. and I was driving away from a bar I wasn’t old enough to be in with a car full of obviously drunk teenagers. When the police officer asked me to blow into a breathalyzer, I pretended to have asthma and insisted I couldn’t blow hard enough to get a reading. The officer rolled his eyes at my lie, then asked my friends to blow, and when one of them came up sober enough to drive, he let me move to the passenger seat of my car and go home with just a verbal warning.
When I was 19, I got angry at a girl for flirting with my sister’s boyfriend and drunkenly attacked her in the middle of a party. After people pulled us apart, I waited until everything seemed calm and then swung a gallon jug of water, full force, at her head. The police were never called.
When I was 20, with all of my strength, I punched a guy in the face while we were both standing two feet from a cop. The guy went to the ground and came up bloody, screaming that he wanted me arrested, that he was pressing charges. The police officer pulled me aside and said, “You don’t punch people in front of cops,” then laughed and said that if I ever joined the police force he’d like to have me as a partner. I was sent into my apartment and told to stay there.
Between the ages of 11, when I started drinking, and 22, when I got sober, my friends and I were chased or admonished by police on several occasions for drinking or doing illegal drugs on private property and in public. But I have no criminal record. We were a pack of white kids — male and female — and when they came, we screamed, we ran, we resisted arrest. When they caught us, they drove us home to face our parents and sleep it off.
I was a teenage alcoholic from a troubled home. My family did not have money, we did not have any law enforcement connections. I was navigating physical and emotional abuse at home, drinking away the pain, and mimicking the violence. I needed real help, but it would be years before I would get it. If you’re wondering if I flirted with the cops in any of these instances, I didn’t. I did not have the wherewithal to flirt with police or try to play the system. I was a mess.
If I had been shot in the back by police after the shoplifting incident, in which I knowingly and willfully and in broad daylight RAN FROM THE COPS, would you say I deserved it?
What about if my drunk, white boyfriend was shot for repeatedly making the cops chase him across golf courses where we were trespassing at night?
I’m asking the white people reading this to think about the crimes you’ve committed. (Note: You don’t call them crimes. You and your parents call them mistakes.) Think of all the mistakes you’ve made that you were allowed to survive.
Think of all the times you were given the benefit of the doubt.
The police in my stories deescalated each situation. They found ways to protect me from my broken, stupid, violent, drunken, youthful self. They found ways to let me have a future. Because I am white, I got to grow up, get sober, make amends, mature, get therapy, get an education and make something of my life. Because I am white, the trajectory of my life was not derailed by juvie, jail or prison. Because I am white, I lived to tell my stories.
In this country, we’re not supposed to get shot for drunkenness, we are not supposed to be choked to death by police for selling cigarettes or passing a counterfeit bill. The system that lets me live and fatally shoots Rayshard Brooks in the back while he runs from police is a destructive, harmful system that needs to change. Don’t defend it. Use your privilege to change it. Use your privilege to demand an equal and just America in which black people are also allowed to survive and surmount their mistakes.