I’m not sure when I realized my distrust of police officers. Maybe it was at about 12 or 13, when my best friend and I had to fight off older boys who tried to steal our bikes with a baseball bat. It was broad daylight on a busy street, but I’m not sure if the cops who rolled past saw the young thief who brandished a Louisville Slugger. Perhaps they shared his lack of concern for our lives. Either way, my boy knew it wouldn’t matter. “Don’t look at them,” he said. “They ain’t gon’ help you.” They didn’t, so we defended ourselves at the risk of our own safety.
It might have been one of the times when I was jumped, or had a gun pulled on me, or otherwise had to fight or flee within a mile of the house my mother had saved her whole life to buy. It could have been the time I was chased through a Sears by a crew that didn’t appreciate the shade of blue on my jacket when I tried to visit a girlfriend in their projects. It might’ve been one of the times we ducked shells spit indiscriminately from passing cars, the kinds of bullets said to have no names on them but which always find their purpose in the soft flesh of young, Black bodies. Sometimes the cops showed up, sometimes they didn’t. But when they did, we were never treated with respect or empathy. And it isn’t that they’re balancing their contempt with effective crime solving, at least not where I’m from—years later, we still don’t know who shot my best friend’s father trying to jack him for some beer, or who let off the round of bullets that came through my grandmother’s windowsill and hit her in the hip. Both survived their wounds but their assailants never did a day.