There's a part of me that feels safe at home and there's a part of me that knows that there is no home for Black people in this country. Nowhere does this ring more true than when I am in Washington, D.C. attending college in the "Chocolate City" that feels more and more Jason Williams with each passing day. I try to keep that in mind in class, on stage or when I'm behind a computer typing stories like this.
I was halfway up the block with my earbuds on full tilt listening to a gumbo of sounds from J. Cole's band of artists known as Dreamville. There was a metro pass in my left hand and a Starbucks chocolate chip cookie in my right because yes, I am the guy that goes to Starbucks for the deserts, not the coffee. I moved my left foot in front of my right at a rising pace in an effort to reach Harrison Street just a little bit quicker, so I could get in and get out in time to get ready for class in time and still have time to eat. As I made my way up my the stairs of my new home of only two months, I reached inside my lint filled pockets to search for the olive green Miami Hurricane keychain that I kept my keys on. Four seconds into my quest, I gave up. I didn't have time for dreams. I forget my keys more than I forget to call home. It's a habit I need to break, but it'll come in due time. Nevertheless, I assumed that because some of my roommates were home that I'd be able to get in without the keys. Right? Wrong. As I played with the front door knob, I began to recall a conversation my housemates and I had about locking the door. It was at the moment I knew I had messed up. The front door and back door were sealed shut, so I went to Mark Zuckerberg's gift to us all, Facebook. I posted in our private Facebook group asking for someone to open the door. I did the same in our group chat, but about three minutes after I did it, I remembered that only a select few college students were up at 9:36 a.m. Unfortunately, none of them were in my house. Actually, one of them was in the house and I know that thanks to the all knowing Facebook "seen" function, but no college student is getting out of bed before 10 a.m. unless they have class, work or both. To be honest, sometime we don't get up for those either.
The only thing was to play the wait game in the cold in some basketball shorts on a cold, October morning. To keep from freezing, I listened to Cole's Friday Night Lights to provide some heat. I also kept moving, walking to and from the backyard and looking inside of the window to see if anyone would come downstairs to the living room. Some would say this is suspicious behavior. Others would call this trying to get into their home before they catch a cold. Ten minutes turned into twenty minutes and twenty minutes turned into concerns from my neighbors. Not concerned for my safety, but rather theirs and the threat I may present to theirs and that of their children. I live in a residential area that you wouldn't expect a group of college kids to live in, but I like it. I really did. I liked it until my neighbors thought I was breaking into my own home. Thirty minutes turned into a call to the police and like clockwork they were at my front door.
My immediate reaction was to remain calm, but when their car doors flew open I was more uncomfortable than I was fifteen minutes ago. I know not every encounter with law enforcement will lead to my death. The fear comes from not knowing which encounter could lead to my death. As they approached the house, I thought to reach for my ID, but that didn't feel like the right move. What if they thought I could somehow fit a gun into some basketball shorts? I remained motionless not because I chose to, but because I felt paralyzed by fear. One step after another, they moved up the front steps and said hello. There were two of them. One about my height and another closer to Steph Curry size. They were both Black, but that didn't seem to help any more. The only thing that could help were my keys. They asked me to stand up and proceeded to ask me questions about who I was, why I was there and somehow we ended up on a short conversation about racist white neighbors and if there was anything I could do to avoid this happening. We came to the consensus that there wasn't anything I could do except remember my keys. They said they "understood" and that they "had been their before".
Like magic, they appeared and gone within 15 minutes. As their car pulled away, I felt safer.My housemate came to open the door eight minutes late. I said thank you and did not mention what had just happened. Needless to say nothing happened to me except a charge for living while Black in a white neighborhood.
I grew up in a family with an aunt and first cousin who were New York court officers, but law enforcement has always appeared as a threat to me and that will never change. You can put an otherwise good person in a blue uniform and badge, but I will never think of safety. I will always think of that time I was stop and frisked three times within five blocks or the time I was stopped and searched while at The Martin Luther King Jr.monument or the times I was stopped and asked for my ID on my own college campus. I will never feel at home in a place that was never meant for me. There's a part of me that feels safe at home and there's a part of me that knows that there is no home for Black people in this country. Nowhere does this ring more true than when I am in Washington, D.C. attending American University.