I remember my FIRST TIME.
I'll never forget it.
I was 14.
It started around 3:30 on a Saturday afternoon. I was bike riding with two of my buddies, Rick and Ralph, about a mile from our neighborhood. Ralph caught a flat and we didn't have any patches with us, so we had to walk our bikes back home.
About three blocks from home, a Baltimore City police cruiser came down the street towards us and slowed when he got to us. Rick whispered, "He's gonna' stop us." I said, "Naw, he's just checking the addresses, thats all." The police car drove away and I gave Rick an I-told-you-so look. That was just before the second squad car pulled up and slowed along side of us.
What were the odds of two police cars in two minutes having to stop and check addresses at exactly where the three of us were walking? I wondered. My smug look faded. But again, the car drove off. Ralph groaned as the third police car came over the hill in front of us. Three is always the magic number. He slowed, stopped, popped his blue-berries on [his roof lights] and got out.
"Put the bikes down boys and raise your hands."
Ralph and I put our bikes down and slowly raised our hands.
Rick didn't budge.
The cop flipped open his holster and placed his hand against his gun.
Rick dropped his and reached for the sky.
It's been over 20 years and I swear to God, I can still hear that soft, innocent, naive voice in my head saying, "Oh, he's making a big mistake because we didn't do anything wrong. He probably wants to stop some guys further down the street. I wonder if he knows he's in the wrong block? Probably, not." I was honestly expecting someone to come over his radio and say something like, "Car 104. Car 104. We've got the right guys down in the 6800 block. You're in the 6400 block, come on down here with us."
It never happened.
We were patted down, frisked - as some people call it. We were questioned as to where we were coming from, where we were headed, how old were we, what were our adresses, how to spell our names, did we steal our bikes, what schools did we go to... and about 20 other stupid little things. He looked like he really wanted to cuff us and haul us away. I had this sickening and scared feeling in my gut suddenly. What if I went to jail? I didn't do anything wrong. The officer sized us up for a long minute and when all was said and done he left us without a word. I don't believe the three of us spoke a single word for the rest of the walk home.
Not "the first time" you were thinking about, huh?
This same type of stop and check would happen almost 20 times in the next six years. We used to call it "The Pat Down." We'd see a police car coming and it might be two or three of us walking home from the movies or the bus stop or from playing sports in a nearby neighborhood and someone would say, "Here comes a Roller, lets get ready for the Pat Down."
I've always liked police. Still do. Even after a sizeable amount of my childhood innocence was taken at that very first Pat Down, I look at police this way - it's a hard and thankless job. I believe 100% that you have some shallow, arrogant, racist and violent people wearing badges across this country. But, you also have people like that in every career, in every position. I believe that the majority of police in this country are fairly decent and brave men and women that want to do the right thing for their communities, cities and states - but they are overshadowed by stupid and thoughtless morons that steal the headlines with foolishness.
Morons like the Baltimore City Police officers that recently ARRESTED seven year old Gerard Mungo Jr. I've been thinking about My First Time a lot this week after I heard about a little child in handcuffs.
It seems as though Gerard's dad thought it was nice to buy his 7 year old son a motorbike that was deemed illegal to ride in Baltimore city limits. The logic of this decision escapes me on so many levels, it's not even worth mentioning. But when Baltimore City police found the seven year old sitting on this motorbike [which was turned off], which they first claimed was stolen, they snatched him physically off the bike in front of his mother. What insued was a series of traumatic events that included the little boy managing to run up to his bedroom before being HANDCUFFED and taken to the police station and handcuffed to a table. This was done even AFTER the police supervisor had arrived. This is nothing short of complete insanity, with a sprinkling of cold-heartedness and splash of absolute racism and a healthy dose of honest-to-God stupidity!
This kind of unwarranted assualt is one of the reasons I find myself spending less and less time in my hometown.
It saddens me that this little boy will now probably become yet one more little boy that hates the police. He will become one more young boy that has issues with the color of his skin and the color of skin that is not like his. This little boy has lost such a big piece of his innocence. Some foolish men with guns and badges that were sworn to protect and serve, have done the opposite of what they were called to do - instead of protecting and serving, they stole and violated.
I'm sorry that Gerard Mungo Jr. has now had his First Time.