Suchen und Finden
As the car slowly creeps by, I instinctively do a double take when I see four burly White boys inside the vehicle. Suspicious. Four White boys in the middle of the housing projects that are 90 percent Black has got to be a setup. They must be undercover cops. I smell trouble.
I accidentally make eye contact with the guys in the car. Damn, it’s Red Beard and his crew. Red Beard was the meanest and most brutal police officer in the neighborhood. It was 1988, and the San Francisco streets were hot and getting more violent by the day. The police needed someone like Red Beard to keep the projects and young dope dealers in check. He was known to terrorize young brothers in the hood, typically harassing them on sight.
As we eyeball each other, my heart rate suddenly speeds up. I start to get jumpy as their car slows to a crawl. I think to myself, “Are your shoes laced tight?” Tight enough to get away if I need to, that is. As soon as the thought crosses my mind, all four car doors fly open, and the men burst out of the car with pistols pointed in my direction. I instantly take off running.
They split up and head in different directions in an attempt to trap me. I feel like a quarterback fleeing from a linebacker. In the background I hear them urgently radioing for additional backup. I think I hear a shot whistle by me. Damn! Now desperate, I run even faster, sprinting through the projects at full stride.
I have a 9-mm pistol and drugs on me and need to get some distance between the police and me so that I can dump them. Without breaking stride, I throw the weapon and drugs in some nearby bushes. I am clean now but can’t stop running. Although I had not needed to run from the police often before this point, I had been taught by older guys around me to never stop—whether in the right or in the wrong. I subconsciously follow those lessons in this moment. If they catch me, they are sure to beat and bloody me. I feel like a fugitive slave being chased through the woods by bloodhounds and slave catchers.
My breathing gets heavy, and I start to gasp for air. But I am in excellent physical condition, super athletic and agile. My age works in my favor as I continue to run, although I’m winded. In addition, this is my stomping ground; I know all of the dead ends, vacant buildings, and good hiding spots. My knowledge of these projects joins forces with my youthful advantage and ensures that they can’t catch me now.
After running for a couple of minutes—a very long time when running from the police—I peek from behind a building and see the police desperately driving in circles searching for me. I watch them from a distance as they finally call off the chase. They look frustrated and mad as hell. They finally quit the pursuit and drive out of the projects. Unsure of whether or not they’re really leaving the area, I anxiously watch and wait a few minutes before I resurface from my hiding spot.
I immediately but cautiously go back to the bushes to recover my pistol and drugs. I can’t find the gun, but I do find the drugs right where I had thrown them.
In the aftermath of this catastrophic circus, a small crowd has huddled up. As I walk back toward my car, they make me feel as if I am taking a victory lap. Several people in the crowd subtly and symbolically cheer me on, giving me thumbs up and looks of respect for getting away from the police.
In a challenged and economically depressed community such as the Sunnydale projects, any perceived victory against “the system” was welcomed, since we felt the system was responsible for our challenges in the first place. The community’s visible support of my successful escape from the police was looking out for one of its own and giving the “fuck-you finger” to the system. It was our version of poetic justice.
At the time, I was ignorant to the downright dysfunction of fleeing from the police with a gun and drugs on me in the first place. And I didn’t completely understand the puzzling paradox of a community that uncritically supported my criminality. In retrospect, their support came because a number of prior occasions had signified that the police were not on the side of the community. For instance, we had seen many unarmed young Black men who were not gang members or drug dealers gunned down for no apparent reason.
So in the collective mind of the community, although they did not know the circumstances of the chase, it was natural for them to cheer, “Run, Malik, run!” Lacking the sociological critique that I now possess, I welcomed the praise and symbolic cheers of the community at the time. I silently but smugly delighted in victory. Ultimately, though, it was a false victory—a victory that would have a detrimental cost in the long run. However, for a fleeting moment, I felt like a champion. It was irony of the highest order.
The situation could have ended disastrously. I could have been shot and killed. Adrenaline could have overpowered and paralyzed my thinking and made me unthinkingly “reach” for my pistol against my better judgment and common sense. I could very well be dead, writing this story from the spiritual realm.
My adrenaline is still pumping as I’m driving home after getting away from the cops in Sunnydale. I can feel the blood pulsating through my body, and my thoughts are scrambled. As I start to finally calm down, I replay the entire situation in my mind. Man, that was crazy!
As I drive toward the San Francisco and San Mateo county line, I become very vigilant. My run-in with the cops was in San Francisco, but I live in Daly City, which is only a few blocks away. To make it home safely, I have to cross the borderline. The Daly City Police Department is one of the strictest and most no-nonsense police departments around. They have zero tolerance for crime and a very high rate of issuing traffic citations and pulling people over for the most minor of reasons. I must be cautious.
As soon as I cross the county line, the Daly City Police start to follow me. “Here we go again,” I think, and then I realize I am violating not only the rule of law, but the rules of the streets: I don’t have my seat belt on while transporting drugs; I’m wearing a baseball cap (perceived as part of the profile of a young drug dealer); and I have drugs on me—in Daly City, of all places.
After following me for two blocks, the cops turn their siren on. My mind starts racing wildly. Should I take them on a chase? Do they know what just happened up the street? Is there an APB out for my car? For some unknown reason, I decide to peacefully pull over, knowing that I have a valid driver’s license and hoping they won’t search me or the car.
As the officer gets out of his patrol car and walks to my vehicle, I look up and see that it’s Officer Moreno. Shit. Officer Moreno is my archenemy who has been trying to bust me for over a year.
I ask calmly, “Why are you pulling me over, Officer?”
“Shut up and get out of the car, Malik.”
My heart starts pounding. Should I make a break for it? I have two ounces of crack hidden in my underwear. Maybe he won’t search me.
As cars drive past, nosy drivers rubberneck, watching me get questioned on the side of the road. Occupants of one car shoot me looks of disdain, shaking their heads as if to say, “I knew that boy was going to get busted.” I try to keep a straight face to hide my embarrassment.
Without warning, I am thrown into the backseat of the police car. I haven’t been searched yet and I still have the drugs on me. Should I hide the drugs in the backseat and hope that the cops don’t find them? I decide to sling them out the window at the first opportunity. Which I did as soon as the officer turned his head for a split second to talk with his partner.
Several minutes pass. Two more police cars swerve up to the scene. The newly arrived cops snicker and stare, sizing me up as I sit stunned and limp in the backseat. They act like they just caught a great white shark. When being chased in Sunnydale, I felt like a runaway slave. Now I feel like a captured one. Whether I am right or wrong doesn’t matter at the time; either way, I feel like I’m being harassed by a white police officer.
I anxiously watch the exchange between the officers, trying to get a sense of the situation by watching their body language. One of them finally turns toward me.
“Get out and put your hands behind your back. This looks like crack, Malik. I just found it underneath the police car.”
I bark, “That ain’t mine!”
“Tell it to the judge,” one of them says.
As we drive to the police station, I think about the Spanish test I had at school today. I reminisce about basketball practice. I replay my run from the police. It has been a long and crazy day, clear evidence that I am no longer a “regular” teenager.
My next stop is the Daly City precinct holding cell. Police ask if I want to become a snitch. I play deaf and mute, which helps them get the message quickly. I insist they let me speak with a lawyer. The officer mocks me instead. “You are going to the big house, Malik.” Before I know it, I am being booked into Hillcrest Juvenile Justice Center.
It’s almost midnight when I get through the booking process. The intake officer guides me to a small room with a tan tile floor and plain gray walls....