police riot gear

For so many of us, this summer has been emotionally intense.  Once again, we are feeling the chastening rod and road trod is stonier than ever. I can’t remember a time when more Black men have been seemingly executed by the police. “Black August” has been especially turbulent, with the slayings of John Crawford at the hands of the Beavercreek PD, Mike Brown at the hands of the Ferguson PD and now Ezell Ford at the hands of the LAPD. These events have been especially impactful, not only because I share the same racial identity as the slain, but because a few months ago, I was in a very similar situation where police officers used excessive force on me.

Like Eric Garner, John Crawford and Mike Brown, I was minding my own business in a boarding room I was renting in Upper Darby, PA. I was on my computer at the time, performing my work as a freelance journalist in a pair of basketball shorts and nothing else. Admittedly, I was experiencing a manic episode, a by-product of my bipolar disorder, but I hadn’t harmed anyone or damaged anything. I’m supposing, as was the case with John Crawford, someone called police on me. I’m not sure why. Before I knew it, my door was kicked off the hinges and a team of Upper Darby Police officers swarmed my room, the one in front holding a taser gun. Next, I felt a burning in my stomach and I heard, “GET DOWN!” I complied. All of the officers laid hands on me as one jammed a syringe with a yellow liquid in it into my arm. They then threw one of my favorite jackets on me and led me outside in handcuffs.

They drove me to the local mental crisis center. In the parking lot, they opened my door and cut my jacket, shorts and underwear off with scissors, leaving me exposed before they put the blue psychiatric unit pants on me. I stayed in the mental ward about a week. When I got out, it was discovered that the boarding house I was living in was operating illegally and I was homeless, a state I stayed in for months after.

I wasn’t too worried about it. I’m a college graduate who was working as a writer for local papers and have connections to lawyers and judges. I was just certain any civil rights attorney would jump at the chance to represent me in a lawsuit against the police department. I was wondering why all of the homeless guys I’d met didn’t sue the Upper Darby police for beatings they say they endured at their hands.

The reality of the situation sunk in when I would reach out to lawyers and none would agree to take on my case. I’d even told them that I found the taser cartridge they used in my shoe (which I still have). The frustration was bad for me. It took Boston-area attorney and college buddy of mine, D’Andre Fernandez to explain it to me. “You need damages. That shit happens everyday. It takes for someone to get killed and you see they still beat the case sometimes. It’s the cops. That's a huge battle.”

I felt silly after he had to lay it out so simply for me. I sat back and analyzed things. Eric Garner was killed in broad daylight on camera in public. Marlene Pinnock was pummeled in broad daylight, on camera in public. Although Mr. Garner’s death was ruled a homicide, justice isn’t clear for him or Ms. Pinnock. There are witnesses to the killings of John Crawford, Mike Brown and Ezell Ford , yet no arrests in any of these cases. There's Rekia Boyd, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima and so many others. Boyd’s family was compensated for her killing, but it was still a long fight to get there. 

I didn’t have any witnesses and all I got was a scar from the taser. Maybe I was still a little manic, but I feel so naïve to think that I would be any different from any of the victims named. I’d even consider myself a somewhat conscious Black man, but somehow, I’d had faith in the system to ensure a speedy comeuppance against the cops, but alas, like all the rest, I just have to eat the fact that I was a victim of police brutality. Hell, even if it did make it to trial, my past as a mental patient and marijuana smoker would be good ammunition for the police to use to paint me as some monster that needed to be subdued. 

I still haven’t lost complete faith. I’ve come to find that my encounter has now been documented with an arrest report. I want to see how it compares/contrasts with the hospitals intake records. Nevertheless, regardless if anything can be done legally, I praise the Almighty daily that the police officers had a taser drawn and not guns. My praise intensifies with every Black man murdered by police. I could easily be one of them.