So many people had told me to watch Jordan Peele’s award-winning psychological horror movie, “Get Out”, but a few weeks ago, I finally got around to it, well kind of. I was dead tired and fell asleep halfway through.
*** semi spoiler alert ***
But the first couple of scenes hit very close to home for me, especially the scene where Chris and Rose are driving to see her family, and they are stopped by the police. The white police officer asks for his identification.. even though he’s not even driving the car.
This happens all too often to African American men, and in a post George Floyd/Black Lives Matter, world, we are now more aware than ever, well at least some of us are.
I’ve recently started exercising and taking long walks to get back in shape after a very long time of being a couch potato.
I live with my widowed father near the very affluent Western Chicago suburb of Batavia, Illinois. If you check the demographics you will see Batavia is glaringly lily-white.. 90 percent white in fact.
While I’ve lived here for several years, I really don’t know all the neighborhoods and never explored them, and I’m surely a stranger to my predominately white neighbors.
I just can’t help but think, what is going through these people’s minds when they see me walking, especially the white women walking alone with their dogs. I have often considered going to the other side of the street, just to make them comfortable, hell to make ME comfortable.
Our house is right on the border of Aurora, Illinois (Wayne’s World is it claim to fame I guess, since that’s where Wayne and Garth are from), and last week at the Aurora Transportation Center, I had my own “Get Out”-esque encounter of my own.
I had visited some friends in the city, so I took the suburban Metra BNSF train down to the city for one last pre-Covid-19 lockdown hurrah with some friends I had not seen in a few years.
I arrived a bit before midnight, it arrived early since so few people were on the train.
I collected my duffle and messenger bag, and stood on the curb next to the train station waiting for my Uber to arrive.
A few minutes later I saw a silver Chevy Tahoe slowly drive past me, then drives away, then it returns, rolls down his window. I see a white gentleman, crew cut, dashboard computer: it’s a cop.
He asks me “Do you got a ride?”
“Yes”, I said, “Just waiting for my Uber”
“You know you are in Aurora, right?” he probes,
“Yes, sir, I live at xxxxx, I know where I am” I replied
“Well you are not allowed to stand here at the curb, Ubers and taxis are not allowed to drive through here, you should be standing over there” he points to a designated taxi stand.
“Sorry, sir I did not know that” I replied
“Do they know where to pick you up?”
“Yes, sir, they brought me here.” I said
“Well sometimes they pick you up on the other side where the parking is.” he said
“You sure you got a ride?” he asks again.
“Yes, I do, thank you!” I replied, and he drove off.
You see how super polite I was. I really felt I had to be as nice and respectful as possible. It was late. No one was around. I had no idea what could happen.
At first, I thought little of what had transpired, but then I woke up the next day and something was nagging at me. Something wasn’t right.
I felt like I was racially profiled.
But there are plenty of black and brown people that live in Aurora. Why was I out of place to him? I was standing still on the sidewalk, not doing cartwheels or pacing. Did he think I was a drunk who got off at the wrong stop?
I talked to some friends, and my usually timid INFJ self decided to make a personnel complaint to the Aurora Police Department.
So I get all my little courage to go down to the station. My heart was beating so fast, and to quote one of my favorite bands, The Pet Shop Boys “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing”
I talk to the desk officer to make the complaint, but she tells me they only drive Ford Explorers and not Chevy Tahoes and to call the Metra Police, because they have their own police.
So I call Metra, but they only have an emergency line. And like 9-1-1, I didn’t want to tie up an emergency line, but the business day had ended, so I just went home to file a general complaint on the Metra website.
I got a very brief email back the next day from Metra
“We’re not exactly sure who would have been in a Silver Tahoe. Our Metra police force has no such vehicles in their fleet.
Well if it wasn’t Metra, exactly who could it be? Then I called the Aurora Police Department again, I got directed to a general complaint line for the city of Aurora, thinking perhaps someone was impersonating an officer. I told them my story again, they said it sounded weird, but since I didn’t get a plate number or the officers name, they said there was little they could do, but if it happens again, get your phone out and start recording.
While this sounds like good advice, I’m not sure how good it is if its midnight at a desolate train station and its just you and the officer alone. How is the officer going to react to getting photographed and filmed?
I decided to just call the emergency Metra Police number anyways the next day. The woman who answered was extremely rude, and had an attitude and I told her as such. She asked me why I had waited so long to report what happened and why didn’t I get the plate number. I should have, yes, but at the moment, I didn’t think about it. Plus this was just Thursday, it happened on late Sunday night/Monday morning, not weeks or months ago.
After I told her about her attitude, she put a Metra Police officer on the phone. They told me unless something happens INSIDE the station itself or on the track, that the curb and outside the station is the Aurora Police Departments responsibility.
So I call the Aurora Police Department for the third time, and they asked if they could send an officer out to the house to get a statement, and I said yes.
Meanwhile, a friend told me I should contact my congressman, who is Lauren Underwood, so I emailed her office. And I actually got a very nice call back from a woman in her office saying how disturbed she was by my account and to keep them in the loop of what was happening.
The Aurora Police came by, the officer was very nice and understanding. He told me that sounds like the BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) Police. It is entirely separate from Metra. BNSF actually owns the train track. He said he sees their silver Tahoes all the time.
Then I called BNSF, whose headquarters are in Texas. I talked to another nice officer on the phone, then they said they use a third party security company called Security Dynamics, and that he had emailed them, and I should be getting a call.
Well here it is Sunday afternoon, that was supposed to be Friday. I looked at their website, its broken and terribly outdated. I saw a very old Twitter logo that links to their Twitter account, so I mentioned them in my tweet, and no response.
As you can see I got sucked in a bureaucratic ping pong match. It’s like they almost want you to give up and stop trying.
It seems like the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. No one seems to know whose area to patrol is whose.
In a strange way, I’m glad this happened to me, because you need moments or incidents like this to bring you down back to Earth, out of your comfort zone and bubble, and to see, yes things like this still happen to African American men in 2020.