Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Age 13. Exploring the neighborhood and discovering girls. I was finally at an age where the parental leash was off - I could spend the night at friends houses and spend the day skateboarding.

One summer night I sat down at a friends for dinner. His father was a Baltimore City police officer. It seemed like any other dinner that I would have with my family everyday. The discussion went from what we did during that day to what the father did that day. To my suprise the conversation started like this, "Damn, you should have seen how we beat up this nigger today. We beat him real good, taught him a good lesson for being a nigger". My heart instantly dropped. I started to sweat. I didn't know how to handle the statement. The family just chuckled. I felt uneasy. I wanted to run out of the room. It felt like I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone. But here in front of me was someone that admited to doing the unthinkable and in front of his family, no less. I was crushed. They seemed like any other family in the neighborhood. I had no idea that racism and hatred ran so deep among my neighbors and how it could turn violent.

I never trusted a police officer after that day. If a cop would try to stop me for skateboarding or hanging out with my friends too late at night I would run, even though I was white. If you ever watch an episode of COPS and they ask the guy, "Why did you run?", well I know why they run. My trust in the system was forever broken that night at dinner. If a cop would beat up a guy for being black what would keep him from beating up a kid with a punk rock haircut and a skateboard?

However only being 13 yrs old I did not know how to talk to anyone about what the cop had said or really even make sense of it all. I just wanted to be teenager and go on with my normal life but my street smarts taught me to avoid the police at all costs. I also avoided the black neighborhoods because I soon realized they hated me for being white. I had lost my innocence.

But the events of that dinner would come back to haunt me in 1991 when the tape of the Rodney King beating surfaced. I relived that dinner and my mixed emotions once again came to the surface. Then later the riots started. The beating of Reginald Denny and Fidel Lopez by a black mob would take the violence full circle. I realized that world is full of hate, not love. I still feel this way sometimes. All I saw since that dinner was how much people hate each other, Whites hate Blacks, Blacks hate Whites, Blacks hate Koreans, Koreans hate Blacks, Whites hate Latinos, etc.... I would see very little to change my mind the next few years. I wanted to escape, put all the hate behind me. I wanted nothing to do with racism or violence. I saw how it made my city and the world an ugly place.

New Years Day 1994 I would hitch a ride out West to Colorado with goal of putting the hate of the city I grew up in behind me. I never wanted to go back. I wanted nothing to do with it all. I wanted a fresh start and I thought I would leave that ugliness behind.

Later in 1996 I was driving a beat up Honda a friend have given me. My first car of my own. It had no front passenger seat and was pretty beat up. It was a motley looking car, but everything was legal on it. However it looked like the cars that most of the latino immigrants would drive around. I was pulled over many times that summer. When the officer came up to the window, he looked surprised when he saw a white dude with a blond girl in the backseat. Every time I would get pulled over they would say, "Do you know why I pulled you over?" and of course I would say "No officer," and they always replied "Well, you drove over the double line." That was complete nonsense, I never crossed the double line that summer. Every time I got pulled over that was their excuse. The funny thing is that I never once got a ticket that summer. I wonder how many tickets I would have gotten if I looked different?

I have been thinking a lot about all this lately - probably because the immigration debate is getting ugly. The immigration issue seems to be more about hate and racism than anything else at the moment. I know I'm a white kid, but I feel like I've personally experienced what happens when racist rhetoric turns into action. Do we really want to go back to that place again?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That really made me think, Forrest. I was in LA when Watts burned down, affecting people in my office. I went to high school with lots of kids with lots of backgrounds and in 35 years of teaching school I learned quickly that they were children - children who had home lives, who needed an education and needed me to treat them with respecft. I sure hope I did.