In light of the Botham Jean case, where an off-duty police officer in Dallas killed an unarmed man while entering an apartment she had mistaken for hers, it made me think back to the few encounters my dad and I has had with police officers and how blessed we are to have lived to tell our stories. When I first took to social media to tell these stories three years ago, I started with stating, "Thank God my dad and I handled each encounter without showing any signs of aggression to make the officers involved feel as if they had to fear their lives." Sadly, I must now retract that statement and say it doesn’t matter if an individual is aggressive or docile; if in their head for whatever reason we are considered a threat, we can possibly be killed in cold blood with a nice little narrative to back an officer’s actions. This is America.
Back in 2008, my dad, who lived alone at the time, heard a knock at his door in the middle of the night. He opened the door and was approached by non-uniformed officers (formerly known as “knockers”) who had their guns drawn and forced him to the ground. They yelled out, “Where’s Phyllis?” My Dad had no idea who she was or why they would be asking of a woman with this name. He quickly answered that he didn’t know. They asked a few more times to see if his response would change, but it didn’t. So, they released him from the floor and told him a woman they were looking for used to reside at his address. And without an apology for disturbing his night, they simply left. We all know how quickly this narrative could have flashed across our screens as a breaking news story. This is America.
My encounter with police officers would serve to be one of the most random instances with the simple dial of the wrong number. In 2010, I received a call from an unfamiliar number and all I could hear was a guy speaking, but I couldn't make out his words. So, I hung up. No big deal, right? Here I am sitting on my mother’s back porch, talking on my phone. I noticed a dark SUV pull up at the end of the alley. All four doors opened and about five or six officers exited with guns in their hands. They quickly dispersed, with two walking toward the end of the backyard gate and the others walking toward the front of the house. One officer reached over the gate to open it and shouted out, "Go in the house." I'm immediately thinking my family is in danger! So, I run in the house, yell up the stairs to my mother that the police just told me to go in the house. Before my mother could make out what I was saying, they began banging on the front door. I opened the door. About five cops entered our house with guns drawn, I’m talking huge shot guns almost the length of my body. I was completely terrified and slightly confused. They asked how many people were in the house and asked all of us to come to the living room. In the midst of my fear, I had no idea that I was the person of interest. The female cop then asked, "Which one of you is Lanae?" I put my hand up slowly as a thick bead of sweat begin to form on my forehead. She took me upstairs in the hallway with my son to question me. She asked did I know someone named Jermaine. The answer was no. She then asked, “When was the last time I saw him?”
At this point, I'm looking at her like her words are foreign. Like, are you hearing me? She asked me to go through the details of my day. I ended the conversation with the mysterious call about two hours prior to their invasion. Now believing she was on to something she looked down at my son and said, "His father's name isn't Jermaine?"
I replied, "His father's name is Kory." She asked, "Are you sure?" Not only am I shaken up from the encounter as a whole, I’m standing in the middle of my mother’s hallway with my character being insulted. I knew I wanted to choose my words wisely, so I let the insult roll off my shoulders and shook my head replying, "I'm pretty sure."
After returning downstairs she motioned for everyone to leave. Later that night, my Mom and I turned on the news to find the story of a young man who escaped police custody earlier that day. And guess what his name was. Jermaine. My safety and the speculation of my character rested in the hands of an individual, who escaped police custody and somehow dialed my number by mistake. This is America.
Only in America can a narrative of a victim somehow spin into a justifiable threat.