Cops and Kids

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Police and teens often have a difficult relationship. Many young people feel that police unjustifiably harass them. Police say they’re reacting to suspicious behavior. Here, two young men describe the ritual gauntlet they have to run when going about their daily business. Youth workers can help youths learn how to respond in ways that will keep tense situations from escalating.

Is It Me? Or the Police?
By Keith Burrell, 17

I was knocking on my cousin’s window because the building he lived in didn’t have any doorbells.

Two police officers quickly approached me and threw me against their car.

“Get the f-ck against the car!” one of them yelled.

“What were you doing at that window, son?” the other cop asked.

“Yo, I wasn’t doing nothing,” I answered nervously. “I was just knocking on my peep’s window.”

They searched me and asked for my I.D.

“Mr. Smart Guy,” one of them said. “How old are you and what school do you go to?”

“I’m 17 and I don’t go to school,” I said. “I graduated already.”

They seemed astonished. They shoved me against the car and checked over my I.D.

They then called my name and date into the dispatcher and found out that I was as clean as a brand new white rug. With furious and embarrassed looks on their faces, they tossed my I.D. back and sarcastically said, “I’ll catch you later,” and they drove away.

I just shook my head and bit my lip before I said something I was going to regret later. My cousin lives on a drug block, Magnolia Street. I can understand that the police would be suspicious of me knocking on the window there, but I don’t think they needed to treat me like that.

I threw my hood over my head and slowly walked the street with my head down. After going about two blocks, I heard someone say, “Son, come here for a second.”

When I turned around, I saw a police car behind me. I let out a sigh of grief and put my hands behind my head. The officers went through the same process as the last two. Again, my record was clean and they had no probable cause.

As you can imagine, I was slowly reaching the point of being fed up. I saw the police hassling others. I decided to get off the dreadful streets and go to my girlfriend’s house.

As soon as I got in front of her place, another police officer pulled up.

“Where are you on your way to?” he asked.

“Damn, man, I’m only going right here to my girl’s crib.”

“Oh, I guess that jean jogging suit must come with a pair of swollen balls,” he said. “Come over here for a second.”

He grabbed me and made me assume the position. While in the process of being searched, my girl and her mother came out on the front porch. They suspected I had done something wrong. The cop finished his search.

“What did you do now?” my girl’s mother asked me.

“I ain’t do nothing,” I answered. “They just think ’cause they wear a badge that they can mess with me.”

I went in the house and relaxed for the day. Later I caught a cab home, so I wouldn’t have to be on the streets.

© 2002, Our Piece of the Pie, Hartford, Conn.


Born Suspect
By Paul Anthony, 19

I get on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) at about 5:30 p.m. and start towards Berkeley. This is my first time working with a digital camera, for an event I’m covering later for YO!, so I’m practicing with it, reassuring people that there is no tape in the camera as I pan around the crowded car full of commuters.

We pull up to Ashby Station and about eight or nine BART police officers enter the same car as mine with a narcotics dog. The cop with the dog comes by me and stands there for a second. The dog sniffs me and moves on to sniff the next person, obviously not worried about me. But the cop is on me. He says to the dog, “Get ’em boy, get ’em, c’mon, get ’em,” which, of course, makes the dog come back to me again.

“What do you got on you?” the cop demands.

I reply, “Nothing.”

“The dog doesn’t lie,” the cop says.

One of the cops says, “We need to talk to you. Put your hands on your head.”

They put my hands on my head for me and I’m pushed out of the train and up against a wall. My face hits the wall, not hard enough to leave a mark, but with just enough force to give that stinging feeling and to antagonize me even more. It’s time for the usual questions.

“Do you have any warrants? Have a gun or a knife on you? Anything going to stab me when I go in your pockets? You have any drugs on you? Have you been smoking? The dog doesn’t lie.”

I get searched for what seems like the millionth time in my short life. I am standing with my face to the wall, my hands are on my head, and there are two BART police officers going through my pockets. I say to myself, “Damn.” A simple word that means so much in this case. For all the times I’ve been wrongly accused, for all the times I’ve been searched for nothing, for what they call “probable cause,” for all the times I’ve had to squat and cough, and even for that time they broke my rib.

They take everything out of my pants and shirt pockets: a pack of Newports, a wallet, some of those new Listerine breath mints, a lighter, some keys and $241. One cop palms the two $100 bills and puts the $41 back in my shirt pocket. (Thanks, b——.)

The other takes my I.D. and calls in to see if I have any warrants or if I am wanted for something. After about five or six minutes, the dispatcher tells them I’m clean and they say I can go. But they write my name down, so if I get stopped again, they will know that I got stopped before.

I think they also took my BART ticket, because I can’t find it to get out of the station. I begin to tell the BART attendant that I must have lost it. Before I can finish he says, “It’s all right, brotha, go ahead. They been messin’ wit’ people all week. I watch ’em all day.”

© 2002, YO! (Youth Outlook), San Francisco,

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