Your hands are cuffed behind you and your world is turned sideways as you lay cheek to concrete beside the door of D’s two-toned Dodge Aries. The police helicopter spotlighting your right of passage. Your big night. The first time that it happens to you.
Shortly before you’d been leaned back in the pleather seat of D’s brown hooptie, blasting The Friday Night Mega Mix as you made the usual rounds around your small city. Now there are flashing lights and neighbors huddled on their porches, clutching 40’s of OE and fanning themselves against the muggy ass Virginia night. Watching as you’re baptized into an all too familiar congregation.
You both knew that blowing the horn at the cop car was a dumb idea as soon as D did it, as soon as the foul sound ripped from his rust bucket and hung in the air between the cars like a fart.
You knew that on the wrong night the distance between life and death was no further than the space needed to pull a trigger.
That the distance between the truth and what made it into the police report could be as wide as the river flowing through the middle of the city. And just as likely to hide skeletons beneath the murky surface.
There was ongoing beef between what really happened and the official statement and you could rattle off the names of heads who’d been caught in the crossfire.
You knew to tread lightly. 5-0 were as regular as roaches in the hood and heads got hemmed up all the time for crimes no more serious than breathing. You knew this. These truths had been ingrained in your heads and re-enforced like scripture.
But you were 17, and it was the summer after graduation. And there were prom photos and college acceptance letters for your mothers to brag about on their bus rides to work in the morning.
Your days are all 100 degree scorchers and sweat. Your nights all possibilities and adrenaline. Your world revolved around debates on east vs west coast MC’s and lies about the girls you’d smashed after church service on Sundays.
Dumb ideas were as common as blackheads and as necessary as Air Jordans and lunch room freestyles.
And to be fair, you’d been sitting behind those two cop cars for like a whole 5 minutes. How hard would it have been to just pull one of their fucking cars to the side of the road and let you pass?
They weren’t doing any kind of debriefing. There were no updates on suspects or incident reports. You saw bared teeth and laughing as they ignored the glare from your headlights. Two cops shooting the shit. Neither even bothered to look your way as their dirty black and whites blocked both lanes on the narrow street like grimy glaciers.
After the horn and a long pause the cruiser in front of you had slowly moved to one side and D inched past as careful as a pallbearer, as solemn as a funeral.
You let out a huge exhale as you rounded the next corner and pulled in front of D’s house. You don’t mention what just happened. You knew you’d just escaped something dangerous and don’t want to rouse the demons you were sure you’d just narrowly slipped past.
But you were black. And you were also in The South. And you knew that escape had never been as easy as running away and pretending the monsters didn’t exist.
So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that the approximately 30 seconds it took you to go down two blocks and round the corner to sit idle outside D’s 4plex was also the exact same time that it took to call in reinforcements from what seemed like every single police station in a 3 county radius.
One second you’re taking measured breaths and venturing nervous relief, the next you’re thrown to the ground and handcuffed. Guns drawn, an army of officers searching your car and radioing in your social.
They are running your pockets and looking for reasons. They’re asking you questions and taking no shit. They are teaching you important lessons for the future and they expect those lessons to stick.
You feel what happens when your hopes and dreams are knocked out of you like the wind.
D learns the timbres of his mother’s wails and memorizes her mask of panic as she watches her son become a statistic.
After what seems like forever you’re lifted up and released. The officer who’d moved his car for you earlier comes over and removes the metal restraints from each of your wrists personally.
He is all smiles and laughing while he uncuffs you, with no mention of a citation or court summons. His point had been made. The lesson had been learned. Order had been restored.
“Ya’ll boys be good now.” he says as he slides into his driver’s seat, the shotgun tucked back into the wrack behind him.
And for the first time you feel true weight of the shackles he’s left you with, tightening and squeezing and making it difficult to catch your next breath.
“I’ll be watching” he says driving away. His headlights fading, the night withering and dying around you.
About the Author: Kwan Booth is an award winning writer and strategist focused on the intersection of media, technology and social justice. He spends his days at a big tech company teaching people how to make money on the internet. At night he writes fiction, articles and essays that often detail the dangers of big tech companies and the ridiculous ways that people try to make money on the internet. It’s strangely satisfying. He’s the editor of the anthology “Black Futurists Speak: New Black Writing” and his journalism and creative writing have been published in anthologies, journals and news sites including The Guardian, Fusion, “CHORUS: a literary mixtape”, “Beyond the Frontier: African American Poets for the 21st Century”, the Journal for Pan African Studies and the Oakland Review. His awards include a Sigma Delta Chi Award from The Society of Professional Journalists and a Pushcart Prize nomination for fiction. He recently joined the board of directors for Nomadic Press and has developed media projects for organizations including the Knight Center for Digital Media, The Kapor Center for Social Impact, The National Conference on Media Reform and The International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. More info at Boothism.org