Last night, I rode my bike home from an event a couple miles from my house.
It was nearly 2 am and I had some concerns about drunk drivers. I turned down a driveway passage that leads between some public housing complexes near my house to avoid the cars racing up and down the major roads.
As I was riding through the central courtyard, I noticed a group of rather large men, dressed all in black, standing together at one end.
As I passed them, they took note of my presence and started shouting at me. They yelled out “HEY!” several times and demanded that I stop and talk with them.
It took me zero seconds to decide that would be a piss poor idea and to peddle all the faster. Usually ignoring such attention from men and leaving the area quickly is enough.
Not this time. I realized one of the men was literally chasing me. I was overwhelmed with fear. I didn’t even want to imagine what a cluster of five men hanging out in a dark corner at 2 am and shouting at women would want with me. My whole body went cold and I peddled as fast as I could, aiming for the bright lights of the nearest busy street.
I heard one of the men shout “Police!” and thought maybe a police officer was coming to the rescue.
Oh how wrong I was.
Because these men were the police.
That realization did not make me feel any better. I quickly assessed my options and decided to stop before any guns were drawn. Though I experience white skin privilege, the police in my neighborhood are so accustomed to abusing the marginalized communities here that I believed white privilege wouldn’t overcome their “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality.
The five police officers approached and surrounded me. Up close I could see that their dark clothing was black or navy uniforms with policey-decorations on them. They were all white, which I thought was odd for this majority-POC neighborhood. They demanded to know what I was doing in “the projects”. I responded that I was riding my bike home, and that the complexes were between my starting point and destination. They told me that this is a “high crime area” and that I “shouldn’t be around here”. I informed them that that was unreasonable because I live “around here”. That sounding deeply implausible, the leader demanded my ID and accused me of fleeing the police. He and three officers went a few paces away and huddled, speaking in low tones, for the next 15 minutes. One officer was left to monitor me.
I was thoroughly frightened and confused. I had only planned on a quick 10-minute bikeride from hanging out with friends to my home. Being shouted at, chased, and surrounded by a group of five big-bodied men… it hadn’t really occurred to me as a possibility. I expressed my confusion at this turn of the events and questioned my detention. They told me to wait.
Eventually, the leader of the group stalked up to me and in a raised, aggressive voice informed me that I was charged with disorderly conduct and riding a bicycle on the sidewalk. He informed me that I had known all along they were police, that I had shouted insults at them, and that I had deliberately tried to flee them.
This was, of course, news to me. I explained that when I pass noisy groups of men who shout at me in dark passages in the wee hours, it is simply a matter of survival that I get out of the situation, and that any woman in my place would do the same. He repeated that I had known they were police and had intentionally committed this crime.
He handed me the tickets and I got out of there fast. I have never felt so unsafe in my own neighborhood. I have never been harassed in this manner in my neighborhood before. I feel thankful that I came out of the situation with my life. That may be my white privilege. Around here, as around the country, police have a reputation for murdering black people. They murdered one man earlier this summer for the crime of being on his porch and telling a disguised under-cover cop to stop loitering on his property. He was killed in his own front doorway.
Some other reflections:
1. All this shouting and chasing and harassing was in the courtyard of a large housing complex full of families. I am talking hundreds of people. How safe can they feel when police officers are loitering outside of their homes screaming at the top of their lungs at every passer-by? Especially when this community, being low income and of color and partly immigrant, is already subject to excessive amounts of police harassment?
2. My own white privilege was revealed to me as I came to realize that this is what my neighbors experience every day, and that I usually escape it. It’s possible that the same darkness that prevented me from seeing the police uniforms prevented them from seeing my skin tone. They may have planned on harassing a public housing resident of color, and I just blundered into the situation by assuming that I can go wherever I want without police harassment. The fact that I never realized how police interactions interlace the daily lives of my neighbors is a wake up call for me.
3. WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH THOSE OFFICERS? How dare they harass a woman who is traveling alone at night in an isolated location away from any busy roads (where there would be witnesses and the potential to call for help)? Are they out of their minds? How can they be so blind to their male privilege and the legitimacy privilege of possessing state power? Could they really not see why the situation they chose to create was a terrifying nightmare-scenario for their victim? How in the world is public safety achieved by men shouting at and chasing women in the night? I have never felt so unsafe in my neighborhood as I do now. My neighbors haven’t ever done anything to make me feel unsafe, and so until now I had no fears. The behavior of these men was so egregious that I believe it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find similar instances perpetrated by the supposedly dangerous inhabitants of the public housing buildings.
4. Essentially, my crime here is that I was biking while female. I acted as any rational women would react in this situation. For my natural behaviors of simply trying to survive on the street, I actually have to be a defendant in court.
5. I want to state clearly that this is an intersection of institutional and state classism and racism, and that I will not be accepting comments to the effect of “Oh you’re so naive to live near public housing and/or to think good on your neighbors.” Those comments would be classist and racist and that’s not what this post is here to talk about. Why would I be the “naive white girl” to live near these apartments, but the residents are “hardened black criminals” simply for residing inside the same apartments I live next to? The location of your home does not define you as a criminal or not, nor does your skin color nor your poverty. I guess I should say “should not” instead of “does not”. We all know that people of color, public housing residents, immigrants, and poor people are criminalized simply for existing as such.
Share your stories of police harassment if you like. NO RACISM & NO POOR-BASHING.