By Raychel Gadson
I am graduating Magna Cum Laude from K-State this May with a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications. I am a member of Phi Beta Kappa Honors Society, and I have no criminal history. My boyfriend is a college graduate with a great job and no criminal history. Last weekend we were stopped in the small town of Cairo, Illinois for “speeding.” The officer that stopped us said we were going 12 mph over the speed limit, which we weren’t, but we explained to him that we had gotten lost on our way to Nashville, and had to go through this town to get back on the interstate.
After checking my boyfriend, Tyrone’s, license, registration and insurance, he gave us only a verbal warning. I imagine this is because he never actually clocked us going 42 in a 30. By that time another squad car had pulled up behind us, and the officer asked us if we had any drugs in the car. Of course we said no, that we were on our way to visit Tyrone’s parents, that neither of us do drugs and we were just trying to get home. Still, he asked if he could search our car. We said NO, which is within our constitutional rights, and he said that we’d have to wait for them to call the K9 unit.
We said we would wait, but despite our polite refusal, we were still both taken out of our car and forced to stand on the side of the road at 1 a.m. next to five armed cops, while a sixth searched our things. We knew our rights were being violated, we knew it was wrong, yet we did nothing. We didn’t argue or try to leave as we rightfully could have. We waited until they were done with us because we knew what could happen if we didn’t mind our manners.
I’ve never been so thankful to be alive as I was that night. Though I had nightmares, though I couldn’t sleep and though it made me physically sick to know that my civil rights didn’t matter, I was just thrilled that my boyfriend and I had made it out without a scratch on our skin.
I took a few days to consider that maybe the town we were stopped in just had a huge drug problem and they searched every car they stopped for imaginary traffic violations. I thought maybe it wasn’t about the color of our skin or the fact that my boyfriend’s name is Tyrone, so I looked it up… The first piece of information I found about Cairo, Illinois was an eight page article titled “Cairo, Illinois – Death by Racism.”
If you turned on your television last week, you saw words like “thugs” “rioters” “criminals” and “looters” in the news. You’ve seen headlines like CNN’s “Baltimore riots: Looting, fires engulf city after Freddie Gray’s funeral.” You’ve seen Baltimore burning and the media has told you the situation is an outbreak of unprecedented and senseless violence. The media called the people of Baltimore animals, and said they’re destroying their own city and using the opportunity to steal for personal gain.
What it hasn’t told you is that this is not simply a response to the unlawful detainment, atrociously inhumane treatment and horrifying death of Freddie Gray.
The protests were the physical manifestation of a sense of hopelessness that has accumulated in response to hundreds of years of systematic disenfranchisement of an entire race in this country.
Media doesn’t show you what it feels like to be afraid, on some level, every single day, to flinch when you see a police officer walk toward you or feel your stomach hit the floor when you see flashing lights in your rearview mirror because you don’t know if you’ll see your loved ones again. It doesn’t tell you what it feels like to have your rights violated and know that there is nothing you can do about it because the color of your skin makes your rights less important that the rights afforded to people with a little less melanin. It doesn’t tell you about the conversations that black parents are forced to have with their children about not making sudden movements around police, not wearing a hood at night, not playing with toy guns along with their white friends and always keeping their hands where people can see them.
A common response when a black man is murdered by a police officer is “if he wasn’t a criminal he wouldn’t have been stopped,” or “if you’re not doing anything wrong you don’t have to worry,” but racial profiling doesn’t see age, education, personal values or even innocence. It sees color, and by association, guilt. Period.
Despite what some people think, the color of your skin is more than enough to get you stopped, searched, detained, arrested, harassed, followed and killed. Who you are, what you stand for and what you have or haven’t done is irrelevant in the face of a system that has deemed you a suspect from birth.
So instead of immediately condemning the “violence” you see on TV, think about the violence that led to this point. Then ask yourself, are you actually more upset by burning buildings and broken windows than broken bodies and murdered people?