Editor's note: Trayvon Martin's killing set off more than a political firestorm; for many black men in particular, it also triggered horrific memories. Too many of us have found ourselves on the wrong side of someone's perception about who is and is not a threat. Below, Dom Apollon reflects on one such experience. Apollon, who is research director of Colorlines.com's publisher, the Applied Research Center, is a threat on the Karaoke microphone, to be sure. But here, he explains how he was considered violent because he's black and wore a hoodie. Last week, Apollon was moved to start a Tumblr, I Could Be Trayvon, encouraging anyone who's had a similar experience to share it publicly. Here are instructions on how you can chime in with your own story.
My first thought was "Run!"
I have a Trayvon Story that happened about seven years ago at my apartment complex. I was a college professor in a Central Valley California town and after getting home really late, I remembered that I had to put my rent check in the slot at the main office before the attendant returned in the morning so it wouldn't be late. I wrote the following email to some other black and Latino buddies of mine immediately after returning home from a confrontation with two police patrolling my neighborhood.
[Note Update: Apologies to my mother, who "raised me better" than to use profanity in public -- or in a public forum like this. This email was originally intended for four other grown men of color who I knew could relate, and I never envisioned at the time I'd open it up to the world. Trayvon's death changed that.]
almost got myself killed just now (it's about 2:30am).
heart's beating pretty fast.
went out to drop my rent check in the box outside the manager's office (across the parking lot and courtyard), and a police patrol car just happened to be around the corner outta (my) view.
well, as i turned around to walk back to my apt, i noticed them pulling up, and thought, "aw, shit", but i kept walking, gently kicking my soccer ball (which in retrospect i was extremely lucky to have brought with me).
they pulled up alongside, and for a half second would you believe i actually thought about running (i know that sounds crazy, but for whatever reason, i guess that's what goes through your head, even when you haven't done shit)? but they shined their bright-ass blinding light in my face, and slowly got out of the car -- my hands were in my pockets, you see.
it was fucking cold out, after all, so naturally i also had my hood on, which happens to be black, uh...like another critical variable in this equation.
so, y'all can add.
luckily for me, so could they after a few questions, and a look at my car and house keys.
i didn't have any ID when one of them asked for it, but i could tell them my apt unit without hesitation, and, well...i DID have a soccer ball with me, and sandals on. the latter two aren't exactly burglar attire, i suppose.
anyway, not that i had time to notice, but i wonder if they had one hand on their holsters. shit, what if i had had my headphones on, and was fumbling in my pockets to turn off my ipod after seeing their light?
what if there'd been an APB to be on the look out in town for an "armed and extremely dangerous" black male, approximately 5'6" - 6'2", 140-200 lbs, age 20 - 45 years (No shit, I saw a "description" on the local news like that a few weeks ago, and I just shook my head, half-laughing. It wouldn't have been so funny tonight.)
life is crazy, man. Can't you picture the headline:
"[Black] Man in a hood shot paying rent"
That incident shook me up, and I tried not to think too much about it. But I felt dehumanized by the experience, and lucky that some minor, almost random details probably prevented it from being a much worse outcome. But the Trayvon Martin case brought back this incident to me in a very real way, especially now that I have an infant son of my own who will one day probably face the same thing. I'm infuriated by how the the justice system has treated this case. And had it been a self-appointed "Neighborhood watch captain" in my situation instead of the cops, I probably would have ran, and there would've been no witnesses to dispute a "self-defense" claim if I'd been killed, or a claim that I had "reached for something" in my pocket. Same thing if those cops had decided I did something extra "suspicious."
It makes me sick to my stomach that in 2012 we can be killed with impunity, when I know if the tables had been turned, Trayvon would've been in jail with no bail, tried for murder. I want that Florida law repealed or at least re-written so that "stand your ground" only applies inside your own house, not on the damn streets where racists can live out their crazy vigilante fantasies.