A Police Encounter

My close call with the local police department began innocently enough. Driving home from work one evening, I noticed a police truck in the middle of the street in front of my next-door neighbors house. Since it was dark, there were white floodlights on the top of the vehicle illuminating the street on both sides. As I slowed to pass the two officers talking to each other, I noticed them observing me intently. Giving the vehicle a wide berth, I gradually passed it, inched to a stop at the corner stop sign, then pulled to the curb and stopped in front of my house.

This is when things became interesting.

As I got out of my car, I grabbed my backpack and walked around the back of my car and immediately noticed a police officer striding rapidly across my lawn. In my peripheral vision, I noticed the police vehicle, circling in from the street.

In a commanding tone, the rapidly approaching officer demanded, “What happened to your rear window!” Casually, I turned to look at the rear window of my car and noted that it was filthy. I had recently used the rear wipers to create a swath of clean glass so I could see through it while driving. It was plainly visible the window was dirty, but functional. As I turned around, I simply responded to his question, “Well, I hope nothing.”

As he continued to step closer, he asked his next question staccato fashion in the same I-dare-you-to-say-something-wrong tone: “What are you doing?”

“Coming home from work,” I managed.

In that moment, time slowed down and I observed several things: 1) the officer was tense, hands poised at the ready, near his baton and gun 2) his partner had left the police vehicle and was approaching me from a rear angle just out of my line of sight.

The backpack in my hand suddenly grew heavy. The weight of the computer and books inside seemed to dramatically increase and I poised to heft it to my shoulder. In that instant, I glanced up and saw my family through the window of my home. They were sitting down in the kitchen and my wife was putting a dish on the table. I could almost smell the food cooking for dinner and saw the warm glow of the lights inside the house.

I hesitated and didn’t lift the backpack. In my minds eye, I imagined the officer responding to this sudden movement by rushing to push me to the ground, smashing my face into the wet, muddy grass and handcuffing me in front of my house, with family and neighbors watching.

I was tired and considered saying, “I’m going inside” or the more inflammatory, “what’s your problem?” Instead, I remained still and did not speak.

The officer looked at me and then my car window again and for the first time, seemed to notice the dirty streaks on the window. His posture eased. He then explained, “There was a fight at the nearby park and a broken window was reported on a car matching your Subaru.” He smiled. I looked back at my dirty rear window and thought to myself, he only saw a broken window because that’s what he wanted to see.

Sorry sir! Have a good evening,” he said as he walked away. I looked at his partner and she gave a curt nod. It ended as abruptly as it had started.

I ignored them as they marched to their vehicle and I walked toward the house. I thought to myself that they were just doing their job. Then it occurred to me, if I were black, would the situation have been any different?

I’ve related this story to many of my white friends, who have insisted it shouldn’t be any different. I agree. Obviously, my measured response with no threatening movements and the absence of sarcasm or backtalk helped diffuse a momentarily tense situation.


Dabbles in table tennis, short stories and tropical fish.

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