The other night, on the drive back home, I found myself behind the wheel looking for a parking spot. It must have been just slightly past 7:30 pm. When I made the turn onto my street– which rarely has an open space but which I gave a shot anyway–I was struck by an unnerving sight: a police car parked in the middle of the street, its doors open, behind another car a few feet away sitting idly and without passengers inside. I slowed down my car to survey what was going on: it was an arrest.
As I slowly lifted my foot off the break to ease the car forward, through the windshield I saw one of two police officers taking a young man in a baseball cap and face-mask, who looked to be somewhere in his early twenties, with his arms behind his back, presumably on the way to the patrol car.
Less than ten feet away, I saw the second police officer pinning what looked to be another young man in a baseball cap against the wall of the residential apartment building across from my own. The police officer was searching him. From my open window on the passenger’s side, I could hear the young man pleading with the officer to ‘take it easy.’
A lifetime ago, when I was fifteen years old, a similar experience befell me and a group of other youth in the neighborhood. But even if that experience at the hands of law enforcement was an anomaly, or something extraordinary, I still couldn’t count how many times over the course of my nearly thirty years in the community I’ve seen police cars in the neighborhood just like the one from that night, more often than not escorting youth into custody.
I am not alone in witnessing that sight one too many times. After maneuvering my car fully past the scene, I drove towards the opposite intersection from where I entered, to try my chances for a curb elsewhere. A couple of minutes later, I found a spot a few blocks away from home and quickly pulled my car alongside. I figured that in the time it’d take to get back to the block on foot, the scene would be wrapped up, but in fact when I turned the corner onto my street, it was just slightly changed. Less than five minutes must have elapsed from when I originally came across the spectacle. The young man against the wall was still there, while the other was no longer in view. There were a few neighbors out, some walking their dogs, but we weren’t exactly in the mood then for our usual polite greetings.
As I paced forward, closing in to the gate outside my building also brought me closer within range of the arrest. I thus sped up my pace, but found myself wrought by feelings of embarrassment for the young men.
I asked myself if I should photograph the scene, if only to create a citizen’s record of the arrest, but decided against it. It is already a humiliating experience enough to be subjected to the will of a police officer. A photograph of the event, which can be shared widely, is all that less necessary.
As sunset edged along the sky to leave the street with evening, I realized that mom would be home soon. Making my way past the gate and into the building, I thought of calling her to warn her about the unruly scene, but decided against that too, hoping the arrest would conclude just before she returned with her cart along the street.
On getting inside, I took a seat in the living room, looking to find a way to shake the moment from my memory. But a few minutes later, I heard the familiar sound of mom’s cart rolling through the hallway. Pushing the cart along more quickly than usual, on arriving outside the door, she let the cart go roughly against it, creating a thumping sound. On opening the door to greet her, I could see that she was shaken. The arrest had lingered on. It brought back a host of memories for her too.
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