This episode has been marked as explicit due to sensitive language related to racial slurs. Please listen with discretion.
In this episode of As In Heaven, host Jim Davis revisits some of the conversations with previous guests of the podcast to explore their experiences with law enforcement. This is, of course, a touchy subject, and we address it here not in order to malign police officers, but because we believe this season would be incomplete without these important stories. Not everyone is aware of some of the dignity-robbing and sometimes traumatic encounters that black pastors and professors have had with law enforcement. Empathy and understanding has been the purpose of this show from the start, and that requires that we grasp the fears and wounds of minorities in this cultural moment.
- The reason for these stories (0:13)
- Crawford Loritts (3:18)
- Isaac Adams (7:10)
- Darryl Williamson (11:19)
- Carl Ellis (26:00)
- Walter R. Strickand (33:39)
- Jerome Gay (36:28)
- Irwyn Ince (44:35)
Explore more from TGC on the topic of race.
- Had you ever heard any stories like these before?
- What did it feel like to hear so many pastors and professors share their painful, sad, and/or scary stories?
- Have you ever had an encounter like any of these? If not, what do you think it would feel like in that moment?
- If these things happened to you, what do you think it would feel like in the future being pulled over?
- If these things happened to you, what do you think it would feel like when a traumatic video is posted that is triggered by an encounter uncomfortably familiar with one(s) you might have had?
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Jim Davis: Everyone Jim Davis here. Welcome back to As In Heaven Season 2. This is going to be a little bit different show today. This is going to be a little heavier as we talk with some of the pastors who have been on our show about their experience with law enforcement. Justin Holcomb and I, we know from friendships with fellow pastors that those who are black have often had some hard and traumatic stories.
And while we were recording this season, we processed with a lot of our guests some of their interactions with law enforcement. And I do want to say before we go any farther that you’re going to hear from these pastors themselves, that most of their interactions with law enforcement have been good, they have been civil, they have been law centered. You are going to hear some of them even communicate just deep thanks for so many of the great people in law enforcement in our country.
So we’re not doing this episode for the purpose of maligning or bashing police officers in the least. Our whole team in fact has good friendships and even family members who are in law enforcement.
That being said, we felt that this season would be incomplete without telling these stories. You really can’t know someone and empathize with them until you understand their fears and their wounds. We had one pastor this season with us talk about the loss of a child. And he said, “So when I see the statistics of stillborns come up on the news in our home, I don’t think about the statistics. I’m thinking, how does that land with my wife who has walked this journey?”
So that’s the hope? We want to understand these stories so that we can understand how, when things like George Floyd are on the TV, we can know how it hits our Black brothers and sisters. So we want to walk in their shoes. We want to understand their stories. And we hope that if you’ve never heard these stories before that at a minimum, it causes you to put yourself again in their shoes and try to imagine one of these dignity robbing or even traumatic encounters.
It’s very sad to say that there isn’t a single person we asked this question to that didn’t have at least one sad story. So in these moments, not even these men’s pastoral office or standing in their community spared them these dignity robbing interactions. And each of us, we also, have fellow black pastor friends who have had even more traumatic stories than the ones that you’re going to hear here.
Again, we don’t say these things to malign anybody but with context for why things are so often strained in our culture today. We want to take the Lord seriously in the Sermon on the Mount when he says, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Peacemaking is an honest accounting of the state of affairs to create the baseline foundational level for understanding and empathy.
So with all these things in mind, we hope that you will listen to this episode with the same measure of empathy and understanding that you would want if this had been your lived experience. So I’m going to hand this now over to some of our guests this season.
Crawford Loritts, would you be willing to share with us some of your experiences with law enforcement?
Crawford Loritts: Yeah. On a personal basis… I’m going to answer it two ways. Individually, my experiences with law enforcement have been fairly positive through the years. Now, one time a guy gave me a ticket that I thought was bogus. And I actually did think that there was a little racial profiling involved because he said I was going like 60, 65 miles per hour in a 40 mile per hour zone. But there’s no way I could have been doing that because I just came out of a gas station and, where it was, it was in South Carolina. But he wasn’t hostile toward me or anything like that. I just felt like, “Come on, man. You’re spitting on my foot telling me it’s raining.”
But by and large I am pro law enforcement, they exist for our safety by and large. Now having said that I’ve had the conversations with our sons same as my dad had with me growing up. I’ve had those conversations and my two sons have had some unfavorable encounters with law enforcement, both of them, that were obviously racially motivated.
Our oldest son, when he’s about 19 years old, was doing an internship at a large church in Los Angeles. And the pastor had a luxury car, it was a Lexus, and he sent Brian on an errand and the cop pulled him over. They’d see this kid driving this kind of car, “Must be a drug dealer,” whatever. Didn’t let him explain. Next thing he knows he’s spread eagled out on the sidewalk.
My youngest son in Chicago, downtown Chicago, playing praise music in his car and a cop pulled up to him and out of the blue just started harassing him. Jumped out of the car, just all kinds of nasty things said to him.
Now, I will put that in perspective and, by and large, law enforcement they lay their lives down every single day. They put their lives at risk and the vast majority of them, they’re committed to our safety and thank God for them. However, racism is real and it’s in every nook and cranny. And you got to be particularly vigilant with the police department because obviously they have permission to use force.
And so, it’s real. It’s real. But I’m a fan of it, I love law enforcement. In fact, during all this time my wife and I and several of us felt like the police were all getting a bad rap. And we did a few things to try to honor them and show our love and respect for them.
But these things are not the figment of someone’s imagination. When, I think of my six grandsons… When white families send their son out and they come back home, you just want them to make sure that they don’t get a ticket. They see blue lights, “I don’t wanted to get a ticket.” Well, sometimes with our kids we have to wonder, “Okay, are they going to make it home at all?” So, that’s a reality. That’s reality.
Jim Davis: All right, Isaac Adams, would you be willing to share with us some of your experiences with law enforcement?
Isaac Adams: Yeah. One comes to mind in particular, it was my wife’s birthday a year or two ago. It was after some high profile killing that happened in the States. And brothers, honestly, there’ve been so many I don’t remember which one it was. But it was 3:00 on a afternoon, she likes this nail salon in our neighborhood. So I was walking there. I’m realizing that, I think this is a useful illustration because again, I live in Washington DC in one of the nicest neighborhoods in the world and this is going down.
So, I have my coat on. Frankly, to be safe, I don’t wear my hood in public. So I’m walking back, got my headphones in and I’m stopped at this corner that I’ve crossed 1000 times right outside this elementary school, two blocks from my church where my office is.
And I literally turned around and I was surprised and startled because there was an officer right behind me. And I looked at him and he just looked at me and said, “I need you to put your hands up.” And at this point my heart was racing and I was like, “What?” So I take out my headphones and I’m like, “What did you say?” “That I need you to put your hands up?”
And the officer, he said this with a kind of pain in his face, but I’m pulled to the side and I have my hands up. And they’re like, “Can you show us your ID?” And what I wish I would’ve said is, “You can reach in my pocket and get my ID.” Right? But I just said very clearly, “I am reaching in my pocket to get my ID, as you have asked me to.”
So I get my ID, give it to him, like 10 cops show up all of a sudden. I’m like, “What is happening?” And I’m just trying to keep my hands up the whole time and not move, I’m not doing anything startling. And, checks me out and hands it back and then he says, “I am sorry, you match a description.”
Now, there’s a lot of complicated things going on there that I’m not going to touch upon. Because crime had been rising in the neighborhood, we can talk about racial profiling, I understand. Like we were talking about in our episode, it’s complicated. But here’s one thing that’s not complicated. I was happy and thankful that I left alive. Right?
So go on, I go get this certificate and I come back to my desk at work… Or this gift card from my wife. But then I come back to my desk at work. And I look around to the other white pastors and all of a sudden I realized, they will never have to worry about that experience like I do. Because they’re just walking around having a normal day. And one comes in my office he’s like, “Hey, how you doing?” And I just broke down crying. I went home and just broke down crying. I was like, “Man, that could have been it for me.”
And like I was saying in our episode, I got little kids, man. And this was two blocks from my office and from my church at 3:00 PM on an afternoon. Now, people are going to hear this 1000 different ways. I’m not saying what so-and-so did was wrong or right or whatever. I’m saying, this is the reality in a fallen world that’s informed by a really painful history. And that was an experience that I won’t forget and that I know has not turned out well for others.
Jim Davis: Darryl, would you be willing to tell us a little bit about your experience with law enforcement?
Darryl Williamson: Sure. What’s interesting about that question is that there is a lot of different things I could share about that. Now, I’ll just share a few of them. And let me say first that, like a lot of people, the police have been very helpful in my life. That, I’ve called him when I’ve needed them. We’ve had break-ins at our house here in Tampa’s core inner-city. And so they’ve been very responsive and it’s good to know that you can call them. And so I think they’re a valuable part of our community. So I’m grateful for them.
So let me give just two, and there are several, but let me just give two experiences that were really problematic for me. One is small, and then one was actually fairly big. The small one was when I was in college and me and some friends of mine were just kind of walking through… I went to school in Boston. And so we’re just kind of walking through Kenmore Square headed back over to our apartment, going across the Beacon Street Bridge.
And these cops, just about three police cars, just came up out of nowhere. And just showed up, asked us some very confrontational questions. I’m going to tell you right now, man, when that happens your speech, it’s just not clear. You don’t know what’s going on. You stutter, you stammer, you don’t know how to-
Darryl Williamson: You don’t know how to… You don’t know what’s going on. I know it’s cliche, but it’s surreal. You don’t know what’s happening. And so we fit the profile of some guy who supposedly had mugged someone over in the Fenway, which is a park not far from Fenway Park. Right next, on the other street from Fenway Park, the baseball field. And we just felt violated. And it was just a moment. It may have lasted about 10 minutes.
Darryl Williamson: One of the cops I’d mentioned got out of the car was black. And when we saw him we said, “Okay, we’re probably not going to get killed here, maybe.” And it was just weird. We were kind of quiet a little bit afterwards. And so it was just unfortunate that it felt… And people looking at us. And they didn’t pull their guns out. It was aggressive but they didn’t pull their guns out or anything like that. And it took a moment before we could clearly articulate, “Hey, we just left dinner.” And it was also weird that we fit the profile. And it would just black guys walking through Kenmore Square on a Friday night. And were there lots of black guys out there? No. But still, we’re just walking. We weren’t running.
Darryl Williamson: And so that one was minor, but it still was not a fun experience. I think the more challenging one was probably… This is 2020. Probably a little bit more than 10 years ago. Around maybe 2008, 2009, something like that. Early one weekday morning at our home, there was a loud knock on the door about 7:00 in the morning. Just bang, bang, bang thing. And I was in the kitchen, my wife was upstairs. We were getting ready to go to work. And I was like, “What is that? Who is that?” And so I went through the door and said, “Who is it?” And the voice just said, “Open the door.”
Darryl Williamson: And I said, “Who is it?” He said, “Open the door.” And then after that… Both the deadbolt was locked and the doorknob itself was also locked, so you couldn’t turn that. But I saw that they tried to turn the door. I could see the little knob move. I was like, “What the heck?” And so then I look out and I see there’s this white guy standing at the door, somebody else behind him. I couldn’t quite see him. Just dressed in clothes, just guys. And so I said, “Who are you? What do you want?” And the guy was like, “Open the door.”
Darryl Williamson: And so then I just turn to my wife. She was upstairs. I called upstairs and I said, “Baby, call the police.” And after I said that and looked back out, the guy that was behind the guy that was in front of the black cop. I didn’t know they were cops at the time. But he said, “Hey, listen man. Let me talk to him.” And the white guy kind of said, “Okay.” Kind of stepped back. And then the black guy said, “Excuse me, sir.” He says, “We’re looking for someone and our intel told us that they could be here. Here’s our badge. I’m officer so and so.” He said, “If you look, maybe you may see on the side of your house we’ve got another guy walking around toward the back.” And I looked, and sure enough there was a guy walking on the side. There’s a bay window over there. I could see a guy walking over on the side.
Darryl Williamson: He said, “Would you mind opening the door and come outside so we could talk to you about it?” And it was daylight. And my wife was still making the phone call. And so I came out and, needless to say I was shaken. And so he explained who we was looking for. I was like, “Well, he’s not here. He’s not here. We’re here. This is our house.” And he said, “Well I’m sorry.” And he didn’t ask to come in and search or anything that. He asked questions that I probably didn’t have to answer, but I did. How long have you lived here? Things like that. And I told him at the time. And I kept looking over at the other guy and he was not apologetic. He was like, “Okay, okay, okay. Whatever.” And I’m not saying that was racist, I’m just saying he was unmoved about the fact that he had stepped into our morning and just shook it. Now, let me say this. Two years ago in our neighborhood, there was a serial killer. Our neighborhood in Tampa, there was a guy who killed five people over the course of probably about six weeks. During that period, and my wife and I have talked about it, I went, like a lot of my neighbors did as well, and I purchased the gun. I just think, “You know what? I’m not going to go out looking for this guy or anything like that, but I don’t know what his modus operandi is. If something happens, I’m at least going to defend my wife, blah, blah, blah, blah.”
Darryl Williamson: Now, if I’d had that gun before and I thought these guys were about ready to do some kind of home invasion, this is a Breonna Taylor situation. And I think that whether we think about race or not, there is a problem. There’s a culture of aggression and a presumption of authority in policing that assumes, “I can just give you direction, randomly. I can ask you questions just because I want to ask you questions, and you need to just deal with that.” I was in the Air Force after college, so the Air Force put me through college. And so I was at MacDill Air Force Base here in Tampa. I’ll tell you this, brother, the military police treats everyone with such respect. Everyone they speak to is, “Sir, ma’am.” Whether you are a civilian, whether you are enlisted or you are commissioned. Whatever it is, you get treated with respect.
Now, if they need to bring force to you they will, but their default posture is, “I’m going to respect you and I’m going to ask you.” And then if something happens where that needs to change, then it will change. I don’t think that policing… And the city police in Tampa and in many other cities, don’t typically do that. The Sheriff’s department here that does a better job of that. And so yes, I realize that had the situation been different, because if that had been today I probably would’ve gone upstairs to get my gun. And then if I had been shot and killed, it would’ve been justified. But the truth is, it was completely unjustified.
And just like with Breonna Taylor, they should not have been there. It’s the wrong place. And they were coming in, no explanation. And of course there’s laws in Kentucky. There is basically a stand your ground law there, and you can defend yourself if there is an invasion of your home, unless it’s a police officer. Then you’re death is justified. And so I would love to see accountability for our police that says that if you use lethal force, it’s justified not based on what’s in your mind but it’s justified based on a circumstance and a situation.
Darryl Williamson: If you went to the wrong address and that person pulled out a gun to defend themselves because you came in with force, that’s not on them, that’s on you. You introduced that, not them, and your miscalculation should not rule the day even though they had a gun. And I think that in many cases, what we could call consequence accountability hasn’t been applied. It’s really more about, “Okay, did you do something absolutely you should not have done? Well, if you felt like you were threatened, then it’s justified.” The Philando Castile case to me, in Minneapolis, it’s mind-boggling that police officer was acquitted. It’s mind-boggling to me. And so those are two experiences that I’ve had. And I’ve had other cases of being questioned. I’ve been pulled over and was talked to very disrespectfully once with my wife, daughter, and mom in the car.
Darryl Williamson: And I didn’t say anything. I didn’t say, “Why’d you stop me, officer?” I said nothing like that. The opening words were disrespect. And my mom was trying to say to me at the time, as the man was talking, “Tell him you’re a pastor.” And she’s back there in the back seat asking me to tell the police officer that I’m a pastor. And just because she could hear him making what’s essentially passive threats. “You better have registration on you. Don’t let me see this registration’s expired.” That’s what he said. Like, what the heck? But those are much more minor than, I think. The other two experiences.
Phillip Holmes: There was this one time, and of course I wasn’t in Jackson. I was in the suburbs in Madison. Coming right over the reservoir. Crossing over the reservoir into the 55 side of the reservoir, into Madison where Lake Harbor and all that. And long story short, it was a mixed group. It was actually a group of white guys and black guys, we were from Belle Haven. And essentially we weren’t riding with our seatbelts on or something like that. I’m not sure why he pulled us over. Maybe it was a U-turn. Long story short, we saw him coming so we’re thinking, “Oh, we need to put our seat belts on,” because we were driving in the back seat. And as soon as that happened, guns were pulled out. As soon as we did this, because there was movement.
Phillip Holmes: So yes. And even in that case, I would say only in that instance… That was the only time that I’ve ever had a gun drawn on me. The cop straightened up. I’m glad we had a white guy in the car. His tone could’ve been different. But he essentially was like, “Hey, when you guys make sudden movements like that, we can’t see what you’re doing. So hey, just be careful in the future when you’re doing that.” But he was super nice and all that. So that’s all I got. But that just, when you said never had… I was like no, I’ve had a gun pulled on me. I just… But yeah, the militarization of police is the huge issue. We need police reform. But again, there’s a lack of clarity around that conversation as well. And it’s something that, again, libertarians have been talking about for a long time. Liberals are just catching up.
Jim Davis: Dr. Ellis, would you be willing to tell us about some of your experiences with law enforcement
Carl Ellis: As I say all the time, I say, first of all, let me preface my experience by this, that when you’re in the dominant group, the systems of the society work for you, work well for you, gives its best to you. And if you’re in the non-dominant group, the systems do not work for you as well. And in fact, they can work against you.
Carl Ellis: Okay. So having said all that, my experience with law enforcement has been on the side of it not working that well for me or working against me. Okay? And I also want to preface it to say that these police officers are human beings, who bear the image of God, who probably see the worst of humanity. I don’t think there’s a cop anywhere in the world that doesn’t believe in total depravity. Okay?
Carl Ellis: And so a lot of police, especially in today’s world, they’re only human. I mean, sometimes they’re under a lot of stress and all the rest of that. So I say all that to preface it with that. Now, the other thing I want to say is that when you’re in a situation like we have a multiethnic, multicultural society such as ours, the dominant group tends to look at the sub-dominant group and judge them by the worst of them. Okay?
All right? So that’s the phenomenon that I call cultural racism, okay? It’s like, you assume that if one of them is like that, they’re all like that. And there’s reasons why that happened. Today, we have more of a cultural clash, I think, than a racial clash. Okay? I can go into that, but we’re talking about police right now. Okay, so here’s my story.
I grew up in Gary, Indiana, and I born in Brooklyn, New York, grew up in Gary. And I was out with my friends one night. I think I was about 17, 16 or 17, and I was out with two of my friends. I don’t know if you know, if the name Avery Brooks rings a bell to you. He was Captain Cisco on Deep Space Nine, and he was Hawk and all that. Well, his older brother I was out with, okay? So we were out just having a good time.
And we left Avery home, because he was two years younger than us. Anyway, so we were out and we were out near a shopping center, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, about five police cars converged upon us with lights flashing and everything. And this man, this cop, walked up to me, said, “Get out of the car.”
So, I got out and he took me, he put my hand behind my back and slammed me across the hood and put a gun to my head, just like this. And says, “If you don’t tell me where you put that stuff, I will shoot your MF brains out.” I said, “What are you talking about?” “Don’t get smart with me, boy.” White cop, of course. He kept me in that position for about two hours, threatening me and all the rest of this.
And my friends and all, they had them handcuffs, cuffed on the ground, and evidently what happened, some people had stolen some stuff out of some trucks or something about a mile away. And all he knew was that they were black. All right? So therefore he just saw the first black people he saw and pulled me over.
And I mean, it was really getting intense. And now, the reason I survived it is because I happened to have known the mayor. He was a friend of mine. I knew the city controller. I knew the police chief, and I knew several members of the city council. And I started dropping names. I say, “So-and-so is not going to be pleased with this,” and so forth and so on.
And after about two hours or three hours, or I forgot how long it was, but they finally let up and let us go. But then he wanted to run us in for being out after curfew. Well, of course. I mean, how are you going to go home after curfew when you’re being held by the police? But it was a close call. That experience so traumatized me that any time a cop wants to pull me over or just even follow me, I get quite nervous.
And of course, since I’ve become a father, I’ve had to give my kids the talk, as we say. You know, “If you’ve got your seatbelt on, he wants to see your wallet, say, ‘Hey, listen, I need to unbuckle my seatbelt.'” You know? That kind of thing. And so I would say that that was a very unfortunate situation. But I’m not going to say that all cops are that way. It was a bad experience.
And I’ve had other similar experiences, but not quite that traumatic. So, again, part of this was due to a cultural class, and the other thing, they-all-look-alike syndrome. You know what I’m saying, everybody in different ethnic groups think the other ethnic group looks alike.
So, one of the things that’s contributed to this, I think, in the African American context, is that every other group in the developed world, they have two or three subgroups. You got the achievers, you got the non-achievers, you got the anti-achievers. The achievers are those who live by values that usually lead to success. The non-achievers live by values that usually don’t lead to success. This has nothing to do with character.
Now, the anti-achievers, they would be criminals, people like that who are living in the underworld. And what has happened in African American culture in the last few years is that, well, about 85 to 90% of African Americans are achievers. That small 15% of non-achievers, they have a dominant influence on the culture, through hip hop, through gangster rap and stuff like that.
I’m not knocking hip hop. I’m just saying a particular type of hip hop. And so there’s developed what I call a cultural racism, a sense that, you see a black person, you assume that he’s a thug or something like that. We have a person in our church that was just roughed up by some cops, just simply because he was wearing dreds. He was in a shopping center and, oh my gosh, it was brutal.
And then they found out at the end that it was mistaken identity. But he’s still recovering from that right now. It happened a week and a half ago. And so it’s unfortunate. And part of it is the cultural clash, part of it is racism. I’m not saying racism is the whole piece, but you can kind of understand where they’re coming from. They’re all paranoid and all the rest of that.
So we got a lot of work to do, and there’s a whole lot of other dimensions to it too, which I won’t get into. But I’ll just say that, yeah, I have a story and I still, when I see police, my first impulse is to be apprehensive. I have to consciously see them as my friends. It’s not something that would come automatically. All right?
Jim Davis: Dr. Strickland, can you tell us about your experience with law enforcement?
Walter Strickland: Yeah. Which is always a complicated question to answer. I do have a grandfather who’s a police officer, who was a police officer. So I did see the badge, for the most part in a positive light, because he was the one I saw the closest who was a police officer. But I remember distinctly one day, my cousin and I, I was 16, we were driving from our church having played basketball.
Walter Strickland: And we had to drive through a pretty nice, well-to-do neighborhood to get from the church to where I lived. And we got pulled over and we were told it was because we had a busted taillight and I got a ticket to fix it, and take that fix-it ticket, as they call it in California, to the court. And so it turns out, I had no busted taillight. I was profiled. We were taken out of the car, they looked through the vehicle, and things like this. So that really tainted my view of police officers for a time. And to be honest with you, it shook me for a little bit. And then sometime later, I on a bus, a city bus, was riding with, I think, by myself. I showed up a conversation with a guy, nice guy, we were just talking about sports and things like this. I love sports. I was a basketball player back then.
And eventually I asked him, “So what do you do?” He said, “I’m a police officer.” And that just sort of threw me back because I thought all those people hated me, that all those people were looking at me as a threat. And so I guess my fear was real and the realities of being black in America remains as it pertains to law enforcement, because it’s really easy to see the continuous engagement with law enforcement and black men on the news.
And so it’s easy to see. You begin to become fearful of you being that guy. And so, all that to say, I was able to see that not everybody is that guy who pulled me over needlessly. And I’m actually very glad, by God’s grace, that I didn’t get pulled over when I was 16 then, as opposed to being 16 now, because I think my response, because that was pre-Trayvon Martin, that was pre all this stuff. So my heart goes out to all the young men who are growing up now, who are seeing all this stuff going on on social media now, and their interaction with police officers.
Jim Davis: Jerome, can you tell us about your experience with law enforcement?
Jerome Gay: Yeah. So my experience with law enforcement has been good and bed. Generally speaking, overall good. I think it’s important to note that, but I have been racially profiled and it’s an experience that was horrific. It’s something that I’ll never forget. I was literally leaving a what’s called a gospel announcers guild gathering.
Jerome Gay: And it was me and two other gentlemen in the car, in my car. We were dropping one of our friends off, and we were driving through Cary, North Carolina, and both the blue light lights came on. We pulled over, and the officer came and just said, “License and registration.” And I asked, “What am I doing to get pulled over for?”
And he didn’t answer my question. He didn’t answer my question. He made all of us get out of the car. He called for backup. They began to pat us down. They searched us. And again, why? And still to this day, I was never given an answer. It was just literally just being patted down, being searched and no answer.
It was a terrible experience, and I remember just as we got back in the car and pulled off, three of us, three black men were talking, and then a friend of mine, a guy by the name of Abdul, was in the back seat, and he was, looking out the window, like, “Man, see?”
He was just angry because it communicated something about our existence. We weren’t even worth an answer. We weren’t even worth an explanation. I know, based on the [inaudible 00:38:17] data, it’s not true, but from someone who literally has the power to accuse someone wrongfully, he could have planted evidence, thank God he didn’t, he has a gun, and when you experience that, it does make you suspicious.
And so I understand. And I was in a church plant residency, and I was the only black guy in his residency, and I was telling my friends, and these guys were my friends, I said, “Every black man I know has been racially profiled.” And one of the guys later came and said, “Jerome, when you said that … ”
Jerome Gay: Later came and said, “Jerome, when you said that,” he said, “I just want to be honest. I dismissed you in my head.” I was like, “Come on, man.” I said, “No, look at me. Every black man I know has been racially profiled. My uncles, my cousins, my friends, all of us have been racially profiled, where we didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not talking about a headlight, speeding, got pulled over and subjected to these things.
Jerome Gay: And so the big issue, that we talk about these calls and even the Central Park incident, is what this makes us feel is that my safety is contingent upon how someone white sees me, that my safety is contingent upon your perception of me. Sometimes. Again, not by all, but that’s what it communicates. And so you’re left to wrestle with that.
And so, I say I’m over it from the standpoint it happened now over 10 years ago, but it’s one of those experiences you never forget, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t given up on cops, not going to paint them all with a broad stroke. But I do think, to quote the comedian Chris Rock, he said, we got a few bad apples. He said, “Bad apples. That’s an interesting way to describe murder.” We have to understand just the validity of the claims and then the potentially terminal results of this. So that was an experience with them, and I’ve had more than one, but that’s the one that sticks out the most.
Jason Cook: My experience with law enforcement has largely been positive throughout my life. I’ve not only known but been friends with several men and women in law enforcement who have always been exceedingly kind, rigorous, generous. And I think at the end of the day, they just want to get home.
And I think part of being black in America is being catechized to understand the relationship with law enforcement officers has long been fraught with a history of violence and abuse. And so from an early age, I remember getting the “talk” from my parents in terms of how we were to act and behave in public, and how we were to engage law enforcement officers during a traffic stop. I think that’s been part and parcel of what it means to be a part of the African-American experience. And I think very few people I know have experienced run-ins with law enforcement that haven’t altogether been pleasant. And so, of course I had those.
And I think by the God’s grace, I’m able to walk through and experience those detrimental aspects of what it means to be brown and black in America, still alive. One particular occasion, two particular occasions, really, one being playing basketball with a group of friends and being kicked out of that place, playing basketball, in large part because even though many of us lived in the subdivision, in large part because we were black. And then on another occasion, I’d just come home from college. And a group of us met up at a Waffle House in my hometown, and we were eating and having a great time. And we eat our meal, and about halfway through our meal, a local law enforcement officer walks in. And we’re just thinking he’s coming in to get a meal. And we’re cutting up with the waitress and the cooks, and we’ve got the whole place just rolling, laughing, and we’re just all having a great time.
Jason Cook: We finished our meal and we tip our waitresses, we tip our cooks, and we’re walking out. And this police officer stops us, tells us that the owner of the restaurant had been watching through the video feed, and that we fit the description of a group of young men who had not paid for their meal earlier. And so we were officially banned from that Waffle House location, even though all of us had been at college, attending our universities in and out of state, and none of us were the actual individuals in question. But that experience of “fitting the description” was exceedingly painful.
And so I think the last thing I’d say is I know not all police officers and law enforcement officers are bad, nor do all of them do their job without scruple or morals. It is unfortunate that we live in a day, and I think it’s a sign of the brokenness of our world and just the fallenness of humanity, that we do live in a place, in a space, and in a world where those experiences are not rare, but they are the norm. And I think it calls all of us to, I think, a higher level of not only gospel preaching, but ethically Christian living. And I think God is calling many of our brothers and sisters into the profession to do so with grace, with character, and with love.
Jim Davis: Irwyn, would you be willing to tell us some of your experiences with law enforcement?
Irwyn Ince: Sure. I’m fortunate in the sense that I don’t have experientially in my life, growing up in Brooklyn, New York, a traumatic experience with law enforcement that I would say was based on racial difference. I had perspective. I had fears as a black man. I received the talk as a young man from my mother, about how to interact with the police, if you’re ever stopped.
Irwyn Ince: One story that ends up being funny to me now, is I remember I was in college. I was visiting some friends of mine who were at different colleges. One was at Albany State in upstate New York, SUNY State University. And the other was that Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. And so I had a rental car. I had a Ford Thunderbird rental car, which you’re 19, 20 years old. That thing has some get up and go. This is the late ’80s. And so I’m driving in upstate New York between Ithaca and Albany, cutting across the state. And I’m doing maybe 85, 90, and I’m just enjoying. It’s open, and I don’t see the trooper that is laying in wait for people like me. And so again, upstate New York, I got some of the perspectives of the demographics and where I am, being from New York City. And I see the lights behind me, and I literally start sweating. I literally start sweating and trembling, and I pull over.
Irwyn Ince: And the trooper comes up to me, I look at him, and he’s black. So my whole… this breath just left me. Whew. But he can tell. He asked me, “Why are you so nervous?” I made something up. I don’t even remember what I said, but all I remember was the sense of relief that this was a black New York state trooper that pulled me over. I paid the ticket. I didn’t contest it. I slowed down. Just the thought of what might happen here, as a young black man driving in upstate New York, getting pulled over by a trooper. And yes, it’s the middle of the day, but there weren’t a lot of vehicles on the road, which is part of the reason I was going so dag-gone fast.
So I look back, and I laugh about that, because I probably remember how nervous I felt. And it was because of an anticipation of a potential encounter with a white officer state trooper in upstate New York. And it turned out to be something completely, completely different.