Dear Police Officers: Hands Up, Don't Shoot

Dear Newark PD Officer:

On August 12th around noon, I was walking home from the store after buying a breakfast sandwich. As I approached the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and Court Street I heard you say these words from the megaphone of an unmarked car: "Stop running or I'm going to shoot you!"

My heart stopped.

I turned around and noticed a young African-American male running and your vehicle following him. As a concerned citizen and local community organizer, I stayed in the area, stood at a reasonable distance, and began filming the scene with my phone. After handcuffing the young man and walking to the driver's side door of the car, you noticed me filming and asked, "Can I help you with something?"

From the second you laid eyes on me you treated me as a problem. I am not a problem. I am a person. You, on the other hand, are a problem. The way you treated me as less than human, as worthy of handcuffs and a prison cell, despite the fact that I did nothing wrong, is a problem. The way you police, particularly as a white man in a predominately black and brown neighborhood, is a problem. Your arrogant attitude is a problem. Your thuggish tactics of intimidation are a problem. You as an individual are not only a problem but you are part and parcel of a larger pattern: an institutionalized injustice whereby police systematically and disproportionately harass, arrest, brutalize, incarcerate, and kill poor people of color—with impunity.

Just last month a federal investigation determined that the Newark PD "engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional practices, chiefly in its uses of force, stop-and-frisk tactics, unwarranted stops and arrests and discriminatory police actions." It's officers like you and behavior like this that necessitates federal government intervention, contextualizes Mayor Ras Baraka's call for a civilian review board, and warrants the community's distrust for law enforcement and hatred towards cops.

After you disrespectfully asked if you could help me, you walked away from the vehicle and moved aggressively towards where I was standing. "You know you're going to get locked up? You're impeding an investigation," you yelled at me. I informed you that I knew my rights and were within them. (I was a legal observer and not impeding the so-called investigation). After realizing I was not just another black boy you could bully, you tried to make me put away my phone and walk away. I refused. I resisted. And you gave up, only after realizing that I couldn't be hoodwinked—and that I had it all on camera.

But why did my filming upset you? What do you have to hide? What is it that you don't want us to see? What were you doing to make the young man moan as he sat handcuffed inside your car? People are watching you. In fact, since I uploaded the video to my Facebook page, well over 2,000 people have watched you and your boys. Over 2,000 people have shared it with their networks.That means thousands of people have seen your face and watched how you treated me. They are not happy. And they know exactly what you look like. That young man may still be locked up but the video of your misconduct is free for the world to see.

Telling an unarmed individual that you would shoot him if he did not stop running is morally reprehensible, professionally unsound, and legally impermissible. Evading arrest while unarmed does not warrant one to be shot at. That's obscene. Threatening me with arrest without a justifiable cause is a violation of my civil and human rights. I have a right to be outside; to be black and outside. I have a right to care about what goes on in my neighborhood and on my block. I have a right to film you. And you do not have the right to arrest me for doing absolutely nothing wrong.

In case you forgot: You are paid to "protect and serve," not harass and bully.

What you did to that young man and what you did to me was wrong. As a community we will not tolerate harassment from you or any member of the Newark Police Department. I demand to be treated as a person, not a problem. If you are incapable of treating me and other black and brown residents of Newark as human beings then you need to resign from your position, or be terminated immediately. In the meantime, I demand a written apology from you, Police Director Ivonne Roman, and Police Chief Sheilah Coley. Also, I demand a formal statement from the Newark police department asserting that this will never happen again.

Sincerely,

Nyle Fort

***

Dear Black Male Police Officer Who Hurt My Arm and Tried to Break My Spirit in Camden,

I am certain you don't remember me. Twenty-one years have passed and, if you are still policing, my name/story/face/body might easily resemble that of so many other black people you've since encountered.

I will never forget you, though. Never. And how can I?

I've tried to empathize with you and assess things from your vantage point:

You, a black cop, charged with protecting other black people from themselves in a mostly black and brown city that white media (i.e. The Courier Post and Philadelphia Inquirer) and ineffective-out-of-touch politicians called the "hood"…

You, a black cop, who may have grown up in the same city you ended up seeking to "protect" while unaware of the ways that economic divestment, political corruption, utter poverty, high-density public housing, a booming unemployment rate, a horrific educational system impacted the social lives of the black folk you hit and cussed at and falsely accused and arrested in Camden…

YOU, a BLACK cop, in Camden who apparently understood gun violence, gang activity, and the '90s drug boom as the sickness undeniably destroying our community as opposed to symptoms of a more pervasive American condition of white racial supremacist capitalism that infects everything from federal law to your actions…

You could not have known I wasn't a "lookout boy" walking down the street in Pollack Town when you were cruising along patrolling the neighborhood I grew up in. No. You thought I purchased my clothes and gold chain by using drug money? You thought I was bad and bold enough to scream "Po Po" as a warning to the dealers, some of whom were my friends, hanging out on streets you were patrolling at 3pm in the bright afternoon? And even if I were a lookout boy, you actually believed I had no right to be treated fairly, to not be read my rights after you gripped me up and twisted my arm behind my back and threw me in the back of your cruiser and drove away only to leave me in another part of town?

I was an A student. But that did not matter. I was a member of the Institute for Political and Legal Education at Camden High at the time. But that did not matter. I knew my rights and you feigned ignorance. But that did not matter. My body ached after you assaulted me. But that did not matter. I cried because I was so angry, so full of hatred for you. But that did not matter. My uncle pleaded with you and kept repeating "he's a good kid." But that did not matter. It shouldn't have to matter.

Yet that's the problem: none of it matters when you happen to be black walking through the streets minding your business on the other side of a white racial supremacist gaze. You couldn't truly see me because others have won at convincing you to not see yourself. You, black cop, apparently believed the lies others told you about your black self, and you are part of the problem.

Sincerely,

Darnell L. Moore, who was never a lookout boy from Pollack but that didn't matter

Nyle Fort is a Master's of Divinity candidate at Princeton Theological Seminary, a youth pastor, freelance writer, and grassroots community organizer based in Newark, New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter @nylefort. Darnell L. Moore is a writer and activist based in Brooklyn, NY.

[Illustration by Tara Jacoby]