A man is out for a walk in his neighborhood in an affluent niche of Silicon Valley, a lovely historic district home to a vibrant downtown scene, surrounded by loads of charming old homes lovingly restored and maintained, interspersed with attractive new construction here and there. It’s late afternoon on a bright, sunny day.
As he approaches the driveway of a downtown parking lot, a police car screeches out in front of him, blocking his way; he notices a shadow on the sidewalk in front of him cast by a police officer rushing up from behind, shouting at him. Several other police officers run up from different directions, all shouting at him.
As you might imagine, the man is now frightened, perplexed and shaking. The fight or flight response engages, but he stands his ground. The police are agitated. Tensions are running high.
The first police officer is shouting, “Are you deaf or something? I’ve been calling for you to stop,” to which the man replies, “I am hearing impaired, I didn’t hear you. I can’t hear someone calling to me from behind.”
The man speaks clearly and without an obvious speech impediment. The cop regards him suspiciously. The man gestures to the hearing aids in both ears as proof of his claim.
Another of the cops, angry and belligerent, gets right up in the man’s face. “Are those things in your ears turned up now? We need to talk to you!”
The angry questioning that follows reveals that the man fits the general description of someone reported by a local business several blocks away for causing trouble.
The police demand ID. The man doesn’t have any with him; he merely stepped out for a walk for some exercise. He’s only blocks from his home. He offers to accompany the police officers to his apartment to produce ID. They decline, instead demanding to know his name so they can run it through their system. The system returns no record of warrants or offenses.
Unable to determine that he’s the culprit, the police tersely dismiss him. Too shaken to continue his walk, he returns home to process what just happened to him. The scene replays over and over in his mind. Anger, fear, confusion, frustration.
To this day, recalling the incident causes him a physical reaction; shaking, elevated heart rate. His flight reaction still engages.
As you may have guessed by now, I was that man. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how that situation might have turned out if my skin was a different color. Would I be here to tell my story? If not, how would it be told by the survivors and the media?
Lucky for me, we’ll never know.