About twenty years ago, I was leaving a Westport club with two friends when we witnessed a shoving match between two young men, one white and one black. Within moments, the always everywhere Westport police had the black man on the ground in cuffs, while they talked to the white man (who was uncuffed) at the back of his car. The three of us, and several dozen people around us, all saw the same thing. There was no difference between what the two men had been doing. We were shocked and began to raise objections.
Rather than ask us to testify to what we saw, the police told us to disperse. One of my friends, the singer for a very popular local band at the time, refused to shut up or back down until one of the police officers began to fling her handcuffs at his wrists. He pulled away, and we walked several yards back.
“Westport’s closed!” the police mantra went up, along with warnings that we would be arrested if we didn’t leave.
I’ve been in violently tense situations before—in schoolyard fights, in a country bar when a fight broke out, at a hip hop show when a fight broke out, at a variety of concerts when the crowd was being treated like criminals—but this was particularly bad. I wasn’t afraid of the violence so much as I wanted to break something.
I had friends who were DJs who were regularly told to change their music “because the floor’s getting too dark,” my favorite Westport club had been shut down because that end of the street was “getting too dark,” I’d been at more than one raid at some of the most optimistic, integrated events this city’s ever seen, thrown by the hip hop collective Flavorpak.
This booming message--Westport’s closed! You didn’t just see what you just saw! Go home or you will be arrested!—it was like getting our collective noses rubbed in every indignity we’d ever witnessed or suffered.
It took the three of us a while to quit staring from a distance—blood rushing in our ears, kicking brick walls—and decide, yes, I guess we have to go home.
Our musician friend peeled off, and my other buddy walked with me back in the direction of my car across Broadway. I was parked behind the bank there on Westport Road. We were about half a block away when we saw a crowd of young black men standing around my car. The biggest guy was rocking my little bug of a car back and forth, like he was trying to pick it up.
I got this. I have Johnson County (white flight) plates. That night Westport was clearly sending a signal that it was made for white people only. I knew just the thing to do…run my little white butt in the other direction and let the guy do what he wanted with my car.
But my friend was far braver. He shouted “Hey,” and darted across the parking lot. Honoring guy code, I followed on his heels.
This led to a stand-off, where the two of us just stared at the other guys while they got back in their car. We didn’t say anything, and they didn’t say anything. I got in my car. My buddy got in his (Missouri plated) car.
And we went home.
Whatever I said, though, I knew it would sound empty. Unfortunately or fortunately, I knew what he knew. When things like what went down in Westport that night go down, words don’t mean much.
According to both the Bureau of Justice Statistics and research by P.M Stinson at Bowling Green University, 400 people are killed by police each year. .01% of those police are ever brought to trial. Though most of those people killed are white and male, a disproportionate number are young black males, who are also imprisoned disproportionately, pulled over disproportionately, questioned disproportionately, and harassed disproportionately.
In that climate, explosions will happen....Nevermind when it seems the whole country might, for once in a great long while, almost be prepared to listen….and then even that gets snatched away.
And from The People's Tribune: