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She Reached For A Gun

It is not my job to educate any of you. But I will say this. I was really oblivious to the state of America at one point too. 

When Michael Brown was shot, I remember having lunch with my Mom. I remember hearing the news say that he had just robbed a store. I remember thinking 

“Well, there it is. He was wrong.” 

But I also remember how it didn’t just disappear after that. There were protests. People were upset, hurt, angry. Why? 

Because it wasn’t the first time. And it isn’t the last time. That was over 5 years ago. Today it is referred to as “Ferguson”, not “The MURDER of Michael Brown”. 

When I moved to St. Louis, I had no idea how close Ferguson really was. I remember my mom flipping out about how unsafe it was.

Shortly after settling into my 3rd temporary home here in St. Louis a year after the shooting, I started to see things differently. 

At first, I used to think it was diverse. Inclusive. There are all kinds of people from all kinds of places right here in the same city. I drove all around St. Louis’ 93 municipalities. Then I started to notice how it wasn’t all the same.

I was around more black people. I was in the homes of other black families. I realized that I really had no idea how black people lived outside of Mississippi. 

You’re looking a little confused now because… Kaleah, you’re black! 

Yes, I know that. But I’m also mixed. And I didn’t grow up around my father’s family. So my siblings and I were the only Black people in my immediate family.

Which made me the token.

The token Black friend who doesn’t “act Black” so their “Black card” can be taken for the simple fact that I haven’t seen Roots and I didn’t know who Sammy Davis Jr. was. 

(I have now seen all of roots)

In short: not Black enough for the Black kids. Not white at all, but I don’t “act Black” so I’m tolerated by the white kids.

Moving on.

I remember leaving the hospital after my friend had just given birth to a healthy, beautiful, baby boy. A Black baby boy. 

I was in the car with my friend, a Black masculine presenting female.

We were driving past the airport which, if you live in St. Louis, you know where this story is headed. And if you don’t, keep reading.

As we cruise through the middle lane, Tia reminds me that we are near the airport, St. Ann cops can be assholes, and I should definitely be going the speed limit.

I am aware of my speed and slow down.

There’s a car in front of me going BELOW the speed limit and now, so am I.

I shift into the passing lane to pass the vehicle, still abiding by traffic laws and speed limits. I see a police car on the shoulder and safely shift back into the middle lane.

Seconds later, I see lights. 

When we pull over to the shoulder the cop comes to the passenger door. I roll down the window and he proceeds to tell me that I was speeding. He asks for my license and registration which were both in my glove compartment box. 

Tia’s knees are directly in front of it. I tell him where it is and motion for her to grab it for me. 

I can tell you that it was at this moment I realized how wrong I had been all this time. 

The look in his eyes was so fearful. He snaps at her and asks if this was her vehicle.

When she responds “No” 

he says, “Then, what are you doing?”

“May I put my seat back so that she can reach it?” She asks.

Hesitantly he nods yes. 

I reach in and hand the officer my Mississippi Driver’s license. He walks to the back of my vehicle, checking out the Mississippi license plate, and back up to the passenger door glancing at my laptop bag through the back window on the way. 

Then he asks, “D’you get this from a used car dealer?” 

PAUSE: what kind of question is that!?” 

diD yOu gEt tHiS FrOm a UsEd CaR dEaLeR?

“I got it in Mississippi.” I say

Next question:

“What’s in the bag?”

This is the second time in a minute I realize how wrong I was all this time. This is also the part where most of you seem to have amnesia in similar situations. 

My laptop bag and the origin of my car had nothing to do with the reason for pulling me over. He accused me of speeding, but is asking me about the contents of my personal belongings and the place I purchased my vehicle?

DO I FIT A DESCRIPTION OR ARE YOU PULLING ME OVER FOR SPEEDING? 

My answer:

“Some clothes and a laptop.”

Next question:

“Are you a student?” 

WHY ARE YOU PROFILING ME? 

Agitated, I answer with a short “No.” 

He leaves to run my license and returns with a long piece of paper that I assume is my ticket. 

I take a moment to read. 

“Just sign” he says, irritated.

I scan a section that says I was going 10-15 miles over the speed limit.

“How do you know exactly how fast I was going? Can you print out an exact speed?” I ask. 

“It’s Lydar, a lazor detection system. There is no print out.” 

WHAT DOES THIS EVEN MEAN? How do you prove I was speeding!? 

I continue taking my sweet time reading the ticket.

You see, I just got a speeding ticket a couple weeks prior. I really was speeding. Doing 80 in a 60. What can I say?  I’m from Mississippi, the speed limit is 70.

That cop did not agree but he wasn’t an asshole about it. He told me to pay attention and remember that I’m not in Mississippi anymore. And he didn’t demand that I sign a ticket. 

“It’s not an admission of guilt, just sign it!” He yells through the window.

I mean I’ve obviously inconvenienced him by not fitting the criminal stereotype he was trying to impose upon me. His attitude is justified right? I mean we are the trained professionals in the situation here, the civilians. We are supposed to stay calm. Right? 

Oh, it’s the supposed to be other way around.  

So I end up signing the ticket and we go on our merry way only to realize that I missed my exit and had I gotten off the interstate before he pulled me over the story may have never unfolded.

And for that, I am grateful. Because that was the first time I think I really felt what everyone else was feeling. I saw what everyone else was seeing.

I understand that when we get pulled over we aren’t seen as people. We are seen as profiles and stereotypes.

They’re driving an out of state car with a bookbag in the back. It must be drugs.

“She reached for a gun”

This could have been my story. 

What makes my story different from theirs? 

From Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Phillando Castile. Alton Sterling. Sandra Bland. George Floyd.

I AM ALIVE

This is why #BlackLivesMatter is so important. 

Because if our lives already mattered to you, all of these people would be alive too. 

Now, let’s talk about it!

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