How Four White Officers and Amy Cooper Keep this Middle-Aged, Straight White Woman Up at Night
As I write this, the protest for George Floyd is still very active online. Thousands showed up in Minneapolis, marching to a local police precinct to point out another senseless loss of life.
Elsewhere, I imagine Amy Cooper is punishing herself repeatedly for horrendous actions toward a black man and her own dog.
While I stand in solidarity with those who admonish these cruel acts, I often keep thoughts to myself. I am a middle-aged, straight white woman. I’m only one rung down from the top, and there’s no way I’ll ever entirely understand what it means to face real persecution. Sure, I’ve lived through plenty of wage and respect inequality issues, but that’s nothing I couldn’t easily overcome by becoming self-employed and proving my worth to loyal clients. I’ve had it easy since day one.
I got my first dose of witnessing injustice while an investigative journalist in Texas. One of my colleagues, Carl Warren, would frequently arrive late when visiting me. On his third visit, he told me why. He was repeatedly stopped by local police, wanting to know where he was going. Carl was a 40-something black man, and I lived in a predominantly white neighborhood. Eventually, as I became more acquainted with the chief of police, I brought up the issue. Soon after, Carl was arriving on time. It took a 24-year-old white female reporter to put the officers in check.
As soon as the cop in the back window showed his gun, I knew they were definitely telling me to stop the car.
In the mid-90s, I was an editor for a comic book publisher. Many artists we worked with were from New York City. As such, most didn’t have a driver’s license. As starving artists and independent publishers often did, we’d carpool to cities all over the US, and sleep 4–6 in a cheap motel room. Ready to head to Toronto, two artists took a bus from New York to Albany. I picked them up in the late evening, and we geared up for the 6.5-hour drive.
Only, I got lost coming out of the bus terminal. I couldn’t tell you exactly where I turned, but I found us in a desolate neighborhood. This was before the wide use of GPS, so I did what anyone would do — kept taking turns until I saw a lit sign. I remember Louis Small Jr (of Vampirella fame) telling me, “Just get out of here. We can’t be here.” And I couldn’t understand why he was so nervous.
“Because I’m black.”
Rick Buckler Jr echoed Louis’ plea. He’s Puerto Rican.
Within minutes we’re on Hudson avenue, and it happens. An unmarked sedan speeds up beside me. Two men dressed in black are hanging out of the passenger side windows, telling me to pull over. I was dumbstruck. Are they talking to me? I thought. They couldn’t be.
As soon as the cop in the back window showed his gun, I knew they were definitely telling me to stop the car. So I did.
I don’t recall who got out of my car first. I just remember Louis telling me, “here we go.”
And me responding, “We didn’t do anything.”
To which he replied, “You don’t get it.”
As I stood by the trunk of my car with one officer, my friends were being searched. They were patted down. The palms of their hands were inspected. Flashlights shined in their mouths as they were instructed to stick their tongues out.
They separated us, asking for our stories. We were all on point. Louis and Rick took a bus from NYC to Albany. I picked them up. We were driving to Toronto for a comic book convention. As my friends continued to be questioned… Where were you born? Why are you with her? What are you really doing here? It all came to light.
I was 26 years old. I was scared. But not so much for me.
As the cops put it, I was driving alone from another direction. I turned onto a side street and through a rough neighborhood to pick up two men — one black, one Hispanic. I was questioned about drug usage and what these guys had over me. It was your typical stereotypical bullshit.
I was 26 years old. I was scared. But not so much for me. I was scared for Louis and Rick. I wondered what would happen if they were arrested. How would I bail them out? What would happen to them in jail? What would I tell the close-knit comics pro community?
My officer asked to search my car. I asked him why. He asked me if there were drugs in the vehicle. I told him there wasn’t any to my knowledge. He asked if I’d be surprised if there were. I said yes. He asked again if he could search. I expressed my rights and told him if he was set on searching the car after already searching me, my friends, and my purse, I’d need to see a warrant.
After a half-hour, we were free to go. We hit I-90 as fast as we could before I cried in disbelief over what had just happened. Louis and Rick spent most of the trip North schooling me on what it’s like to be non-caucasian. You’d think I would have known better, seeing as I’d lived on the border of Texas and Arkansas for six years. Then I remembered a night back in Texas. Carl and I had taken a road trip to Dallas to hang at the West End. I never really understood why he seemed on edge most of the night. And now, I know. Carl confirmed I’d been relatively ignorant about my surroundings. The two of us had gotten plenty of looks and physical reactions — a young white woman and an older black man and all.
Sunday, May 25, 2020, took me back.
That gut-wrenching feeling from the past resurfaced as I watched everything unfold on Twitter. An entitled woman playing the racism card — so determined to teach a black man a lesson she garotted her own dog and made a false report to police on camera. An entitled white police officer was pressing his knee against a black man’s neck, while his comrades did nothing to stop the suffering.
Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have a Dream speech was given in 1963. Twenty-eight years later, Rodney King was beaten by the LAPD. The LA Riots, incited by the acquittal of three of those officers and no returned verdict on a fourth, lasted six days. Fifty-seven years after that famous speech still taught in schools today, George Floyd died, and riots ensued.
Countless unnecessary beatings and deaths have occurred since America adopted the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Yet, for 56 years, minorities still express fear. And that disturbs me to the core.
At the end of the day, we are all human. And, no matter what, we must do better.