The Fatigue of Blackness
The sun perched stubbornly, just above the bails of hay and bored cattle along I-10. I was heading west, from Houston to San Antonio to visit my parents. I stifled back-to-back yawns, and shifted my seat straight up as I sputtered down I-10. The chicken strips, onion rings, and Route 44 drink from Sonic were probably not the best idea, as the exhaustion from the week coupled with how full I was feeling, figured to have me in a sleep coma within the next hour or two. I hate Saturday morning drives.
I had just passed the “Entering Seguin City Limits” sign, when I spotted him.
He was tucked away at an outpost angled off across the highway, just below the crest of the road. I observed him, unbothered — my 1992 Camry sputtered, sighed and heaved on these trips since she now qualified as elderly; there were hot flashes from the lack of AC, oil leaked regularly, and I carried a jug of water and antifreeze to appease her grumpy radiator — attempting to accelerate to 70mph felt like what I imagined astronauts experienced as they broke through Earth’s atmosphere: violent shaking, white knuckles gripping the wheel, and a loss of any real control. I was resigned to doing 60–65 mph max on any long distance trips. In Texas, that means being resigned to the right lane and enduring the blaring of horns as extended-cab trucks zoom past, middle fingers outstretched emphatically while mouthing expletives that you imagine would be hurled with a country twang.
The sound of a siren caught my attention, and as I looked in my rearview mirror I could see the cop’s car weaving in and out of traffic before swerving obnoxiously close behind me.
Nah. Not me. I’m definitely not speeding.
I maintained my speed, as still others zoomed past, before finally deciding he might be stopping me, after all. As I pulled onto the side of the highway, he did too.
Ugh. A state trooper.
He walked nonchalantly up to my car where I already had the window down.
“License and registration, please.”
As I started to reach toward my glove compartment, I noticed his hand slide down to touch the holster of his gun. I immediately retracted.
“Sir, do you mind if I reach in my glove compartment and grab my documentation?”
“Go ahead”, he said. His aviator shades glistened and I could feel his eyes examining the interior of my car as I shuffled through papers.
After handing him my license and registration, he peered at them for about 10–20 seconds. He moved away from my window before abruptly stating:
“Please exit your vehicle.”
Huh? Exit my vehicle? For what? “Sorry I think I misheard you,” I stammered.
“Exit slowly. Then I need you to place your hands on the vehicle.”
“What did I do Officer?” I asked, to which he countered
“Don’t make me ask you again.”
As a black man, there is a moment in every police stop where you have an almost spiritual or ancestral understanding of whether this is just going to be you getting a warning/ticket and moving on with your life, or whether there is a possibility that you will be brutalized and die.
I did not know what I had done wrong. I had not sped. My heart was pounding and my breaths began to shorten. Why was I being asked to leave my vehicle?
I exited and turned toward it to place my hands on the vehicle. The officer asked me where I was going. I told him. He asked if I lived at the address on my license. I said yes. He then asked me to turn around.
“Where is it?” he asked angrily.
Confused, I said nothing. I have no clue what this man is asking me for.
“Where the fuck is it?” He asked again, this time more menacingly.
“Sir, I have no idea what you’re talking about” I responded. I couldn’t see his eyes behind the silver frames, but I imagined they were wild as he stared back at me.
The next part…well, It happened in an instant, and I still think about this all the time.
One minute, I’m leaned with my back against my car, answering mysterious questions that do not apply to me. The next minute I feel the force of two fists hitting my chest and knocking me back against my vehicle, then my shirt being clenched.
When another man, a relative stranger to you, touches you aggressively, one of the most natural, visceral reactions you can have is to punch that person; punch, push, slap, kick or in some way remove or counter that stranger’s physical touch from your body. Everything I’ve learned, seen, and been taught by society gave me the right to punch this officer squarely in his jaw.
But I didn’t. I was in shock. Subconsciously, I’ve come to believe I wasn’t ready to die.
He shook me, repeatedly, screaming at me, “Where is it? Where’s the marijuana?”
I squinted before yelling back, “Excuse me?”
He slammed me against the vehicle, sneering.
“Where. Is. The. Marijuana? The “Mary Jane”, the weed, the dope?”
“I don’t even smoke sir…” I pleaded. He backed up and looked at my chest.
“You have marijuana crumbs all over your shirt! Quit lying to me, boy!”
Yeah, he called me “boy”.
I pointed toward the crumpled bag of Sonic, and the humongous 44 ounce limeade in the front console of my car. “The crumbs are from my food, sir…they’re brown” I mumbled incredulously.
He stared at me, defiantly.
“I’m going to check your record, and if I see you’ve ever smoked or done anything else, I’m taking you to jail straight away.” He stormed off to his vehicle to call in my info. He was in his car for 25 minutes. Finally he returned to me, and told me to sign a slip of paper he tore from a tablet.
It was a ticket stating I did 81mph in a 70mph zone. He then told me to quit speeding before screeching back onto the highway.
When I arrived in San Antonio my parents did what immigrant parents, who arrived here on the strength of America’s dream and the determination for a better life, do -
they asked me to never wear that white hoodie to drive,
they begged me to go below the speed limit,
they told me to consider getting a new car,
they asked me to not drive at night,
they asked me to never argue with the police,
they asked me to reach for my license and registration slowly,
and they asked me to report it to the higher ups in Seguin PD.
The thing is, respectability politics don’t work.
My degree doesn’t work.
My having been an executive doesn’t work.
My enunciation and articulation doesn’t work.
The truth is, that every day I live with the knowledge that if I get stopped by the police, it could be my last day on earth, even if I tried to do everything right. It’s a subconscious thing — it’s the leg weights you put on and forget you’re wearing when you go out for a jog. It’s the backpack you don’t think about much when you’re hiking up a trail. But every time someone dies the way George Floyd did, I feel it. I feel all the weight. A knee to the neck, stifling my ability to just breathe freely on an everyday basis. I remember it’s there — it’s shape, it’s heaviness…the burden of it.
Every time someone that looks like me dies, I wonder if I’ll be as lucky the next time.