Double Indignity

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

From Mike Harrington, a reader in a large Midwestern city:

One day I was walking to get a car-share vehicle a few blocks away from my office because I needed to go pick up some paperwork. Keep in mind, I’m about 6'3" and was wearing my office clothes (button-down shirt and slacks). As I’m walking across the street, I notice the light’s about to change so I jog to make it across the street before it turns red. Then a police car speeds towards me, almost hits me and an officer hops out, points his gun at me and starts yelling at me to get on the ground.

I of course thought “this seems excessive for almost jaywalking.” I put my hands up and calmly asked what was going on. The officer keeps yelling at me to get down and also not to move (??). Then another police car pulls up and that officer jumps out the car, slams me on the hood of the car and handcuffs me, without any explanation.

At this point, I’m angry, confused, and embarrassed, as we are in the middle of the street, a block from my office, and I saw people walking down the street giving me disapproving looks.

I overhear the officers talk about finding a suspect in a robbery who is a short black man with long hair, baggy clothes, and two large women with him. None of this, however, is explained to me.

After a few minutes, one of the officers comes over to me, uncuffs me, and tells me: “If you see any more blacks around here, let us know.” No apology, no explanation—and they drive away.

I kept on my way to get the car because I didn’t have much time left. Then two police SUVS pull up on the sidewalk and surround me. An officer jumps out, points his gun (again!), and tells me to come with them. This officer was about my height and had dreadlocks and I said to the other officers “They told me to let you know if I see any more blacks. There’s one right here!”

I could tell he was confused but didn’t have time to respond, since he got a call, hopped back into the SUV and drove away. Later that day, I tried to file a complaint, but it was not processed.