My parents didn’t believe in profanity around children; they would angrily spell out their curse words if kids were within earshot. My brothers and I only knew radio edits and clean versions. Reverse sound effects would quiet F-bombs, and “ass” could cause an uproar.
As I grew older and got into hip-hop, I found that there were lyrics I would still omit. These words would roll off my tongue with the strain of a toddler’s first words. I was trying to come off adult and cool. My classmates had the vocabulary of veteran sailors; my upbringing and inexperience with uncensored expression got me clowned for a while.
This is probably the reason why I hold Lupe’s first verse in “Hurt Me Soul” so dear. He understood the uncomfortable conflict of hearing lyrics that didn’t resonate on a personal level, but could still find enjoyment in some of hip-hop’s most vulgar songs.
It wasn’t just the bitches and hoes, but bolder statements that I couldn’t grasp, like “Fuck the police.” Rappers hate police officers, a beef even East Coast vs. West Coast couldn’t rival.
But how could so many men have vendettas against the law? I thought their purpose was to protect and serve.
I didn’t have a reason to hate them. Sure, I knew crooked cops existed, but the ones who served justice rightfully weren’t immune to the hatred that I heard in the music.
I didn’t associate negative images with police in my youth; they simply didn’t have a presence in my life. My only memories of flashing lights were during road trips. My father has a heavy foot, and speeding tickets came with our Happy Meals. He was always respectful, never losing an ounce of cool. He taught me to accept your wrongdoings and the pointlessness of rage when caught.
When you’re young and naïve living in the ignorance of illusion, it’s only a matter of time before reality force-feeds you a spoonful of red pills. When it happened, that unavoidable moment, it wasn’t Lupe but JAY-Z that I thought about, his second verse on “99 Problems,” as the K-9 circles the car.
The plan is simple. Drive three hours to the Savannah State University and pick-up my little brother, return in time to help set up for our mother’s surprise birthday party.
Before I can get out of the driveway, my front passenger-side tire goes flat. So I take my father’s Mazda, all white, with the slightest crack in the windshield. It’s April, the warm Atlanta weather called for Pharrell’s G I R L to be my soundtrack.
The universe was chuckling as a Macon cop car pulled behind me with his lights blaring as “Come Get It Bae” plays in the background.
I see him on my left-hand side, sitting in the grass with another cop car. Still, I’m without worry. The tags and insurance were updated, I was going the speed limit, and my music wasn’t at disturbing the peace volume.
I’m surprised when he pulls out and gets behind me with his lights on. I sit clueless, waiting for him to approach the car. He comes to the passenger side, asking for the usual requirements.
After receiving my license, he walks half-way to his car before turning around and returning to my window, requesting that I get out of the vehicle. He says my hand was shaking when I gave him my license, and that’s why he wants me out of the car. I disagree, but it doesn’t change his mind.
He pats me down, nothing unusual, the treatment you’ll receive from a club bouncer, and then asks me to sit on the hood of his car and begins firing off questions about my destination and the Mazda. I answer everything calmly, knowing the slightest irritated “no sir” or an aggressive “yes sir” would place me in a world of trouble. He hasn’t told me why he stopped me, but being young, black, with a hat real low is starting to sound about right.
He pats me down again before asking about drugs. There’s none in the car, and there’s none on me, I say. He asks if he could check the car, and I inform him that he can’t.
He pats me down again, getting more aggressive. Cars are zooming by, and I’m wasting time. He goes into his car while I’m sitting on the hood. Within five minutes, another cop car appears, and this one has a dog. Before I knew it, the dog is circling my father’s car; my eyes are wide with confusion.
It only takes a few moments before they’re telling me that the dog is indicating that something is in the car, and now they have probable cause to search the vehicle.
Before they enter the car, I get my final pat-down; he tells me to lift my shirt, and he pulls my jeans and boxers back far enough to get a nice glimpse at the family jewels.
Fuck the police is my only thought.
My dad is more Walter White than Heisenberg. He’s a hardworking man that only gets near drugs when watching Scarface, but I had my doubts watching those cops go through that car.
I start to doubt my future; are they planning on setting me up, planting just enough to get me in a cell? I start envisioning enough conspiracies to write an entire season worth of CSI: Atlanta.
I feel powerless, I feel like a criminal, I felt violated, all because the anxiety of getting pulled over for nothing except my left hand seeming a bit nervous?
I watch them rummage through the car, seeing the disappointment in their eyes as they tell me they found nothing, but they get the last laugh.
The officer writes me a warning ticket for the five-inch crack in the windshield. He says that’s the reason why he pulled me over, and why he detained me for 30 minutes.
After they leave, I just sit in the car. I know I have two hours of driving to go. Today, I’m celebrating my mother’s life. I’ll never look at an officer the same.
A few months later, after the Mike Brown tragedy, I exchanged stories about police officers with a close friend. He brought up how every black person he knows has had at least one horrible experience with cops. That no matter how sheltered, how careful, how-well mannered, there will come a day when you’ll feel the abuse of that badge.
The idea of justice has become skewered—there is no justice when police are in the wrong. No suspension or probation can return the innocence lost once they make you feel ant-sized, how they can squash you at any moment.
Eric Garner, Sean Bell, and Mike Brown are worst-case situations. The badge granted their killers immunity. They’ll never be able to tell their stories, but as a wise woman once told me, only martyrs encourage change, and these young men have lit a fire in the people.
In comparison to their lost lives, and many others’ altercations, my story feels minuscule, but the lasting effect is permanent.
It’s not about skin color, I can’t see who’s in that tinted car, but its appearance will send a chill down my spine because the person inside can do what they please without lawful repercussions.
I now play “99 Problems” with a newfound personal connection. I don’t omit a single word.
Two-thousand fourteen is the year I lost complete trust in law enforcement and forgot the definition of justice. This is the year I truly understood, fuck the police.
By Yoh, AKA #BlackLivesMatter, AKA @Yoh31