As my fellow classmates and I discuss our curriculum, the door to our classroom bursts open, then slams shut. I turn around to see where the clamor came from — maybe someone tripped when coming back from the bathroom or something — but instead two police officers are standing above Stan, one of my friends in my cohort. One officer pins Stan’s arms to the ground, the other holds a gun to his head.
I don’t understand how or why two cops came into our classroom. I feel as if I’m hallucinating; why would anyone hold a gun to a graduate student’s head during a seminar?
Stan’s face shows no surprise; he’s pegged to the ground and he is about to be shot in the head. But his eyes are resigned; instead of anguish or terror, his mouth forms a straight line as if this is no shock to him.
Why the hell would the police be holding a gun to the head of my 24-year old colleague?
Stan had gotten up to use the bathroom.
Apparently, a Black teenager had attempted to rob a nearby shop that morning.
The cops entered the building — it’s a community center for counseling and education — because they thought this kid was hiding there after his violation.
As Stan opened the door to re-enter our classroom, the cops seized him, pinned him to the ground in front of his classmates and professors, and held a loaded gun to his temple.
We later learned that the cops thought he looked like the guy they were after. The only resemblance is that they are Black.
You could say that the police were “just doing their job.” And yes, they were at work, and I don’t believe they set out that day to terrorize my friend. But if a woman of my ethnicity robbed a store in that neighborhood and hid in our building, and the police spotted me when I’d gotten up to use the bathroom, I know they would not have held me down and held a gun to my head.
A month prior, Stan had spoken about how he was pulled over while driving to class that morning. He wasn’t speeding, he didn’t run a traffic light, his registration hadn’t expired.
The officer pulled him over to ask him where he was going that morning. Stan told him he was on his way to school. He told us that the officer looked doubtful and smirked when he answered him. Stan thought to himself, “Yes, Black people do go to school.”
Of course, he didn’t say that out loud to the cop. He knew that complicity was the only option for a Black man who’s in the presence of a police officer. He never asked the officer why he was pulled over. He’d been racially profiled many times in the past. This was nothing different for him.
Finally, the cop had let him go to class. He was over an hour late.
And now, he was pinned on the carpet with a gun held to his head.
All for the simple reason that he’s a Black man. Oh, and that the cops were looking for a Black teenager.
I know you trolls will cry, “What were the cops supposed to do? They were looking for a suspect, and Stan fit the description.”
You can accuse me of being racist against white people, complain that I don’t respect cops. I am familiar with arguments against the Black Lives Matter movement. I do not agree with them.
You can tell me that Stan looked threatening to the cops, because he was too tall or too young or too black.
But I’m gong to call it as I saw it: a Master’s degree candidate attended class, used the restroom in an educational building, and, instead of simply returning back to his classroom, was forced back in by two cops, one pinning him to the ground, and one threatening to shoot him.
Because of the color of his skin.
As we all yelled at the officers to stop, that Stan was our fellow student, one of our white male professors finally got out of his seat and approached the officers.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Sir, he is a suspect in a crime that happened today.”
“No he’s not. He’s a student. He’s been in class all morning.”
“Sir, the perpetrator is in this building and this man fits the description.”
“Put your gun away. He is my student. I’ve been with him since 8 AM. You have the wrong person.”
Finally, the officer returned his weapon to his holster.
My professor kept talking:
“Free his hands. There is no reason to detain him like that.”
“Sir, he could still be a suspect.”
“I said, FREE HIS HANDS. He is NOT a suspect. He is one of my students.”
They finally let go of Stan. At last, the officer moved his gun away from Stan’s temple.
We later found out that the perpetrator had not run into our building; he’d disappeared a few blocks from where our community center was located.
After the incident, we students and our professors wrote letters insisting that the two officers come back and address what happened. And they did return. I give them credit for coming back to help deconstruct what happened.
But they never apologized. And during their time with us, I noticed that they never once looked Stan in the face.
Stan and I went out the night before his birthday, which was about three weeks later. As we were drinking our beers, he looked at me and said, “Tomorrow I will be 25. A lot of Black men don’t live to see their 25th birthday.”
We were quiet. We both knew how close he was to becoming a statistic.
The remainder of the semester, our professors and other students tried to address what had happened with Stan. I don’t think he wanted to be singled out anymore.
This happened in February of that school year. When we graduated in June, Stan had become very withdrawn.
This is not my story to tell. It’s Stan’s. But in light of the mainstream finally paying attention to what’s been going on for 400 years — Black people being murdered, harassed, brutalized — Stan’s story needs to be heard.
I will never know how it feels to endure what Stan and every other Black man, woman, and child suffers through every day. Stan and I also lost touch over the years. It’s been 15 years and I don’t know what he is doing today. I do know that he’s an intelligent, creative, sensitive person. He has a Master’s degree from a reputable university. But he’s a Black man. And sadly, because of his skin color, he is still treated inhumanely. Change must happen now.