When I was growing up; discussions about the police were minimal. I knew they were there to “Protect and Serve” but didn’t fully understand what that meant, let alone who it applied to. This morning I woke up and decided to watch my favorite show: Law and Order, where this particular episode covers the story of an unarmed Black man who was shot and killed by police. So, I did a quick Google search, and the results weren’t very surprising. The Black population in Canada is 3.5%, yet a poll found that Black people make up 9% of police shootings. As I sat watching the story unfold, it occurred to me “Why are so many Black people shot and killed by a department that is supposed to protect them?”
I can remember the one and only time I was pulled over by police like it was yesterday. It was a sunny morning, and I was driving on the highway heading home after going to a restaurant. As I passed the on-ramp I could see two police cars merging into my lane, so naturally, I switched over. However, instead of passing me, they pulled in behind me, causing me to change lanes once again, except, this time their lights were on. Immediately I knew what was happening, so I pulled over already crying wondering what would transpire. My internal dialogue was running at rampant speed. “Do I take out my phone and record?” “But they might think it’s a weapon.” “How do I reach for my wallet at the bottom of my bag, without them wondering.” “I don’t want to take my hands off the wheel.”
To some reading this, they may feel as though I was being overdramatic, or that I was even overreacting since we only live in small Fredericton. I on the other hand feel differently. When you get pulled over, you don’t know what kind of officer you will be dealing with, what their background is, or even their personal views. You just don’t know. And based on what I had seen in the media, of all the innocent Black people dying at the hands of police, my fear was absolutely justified.
As the officer walked up to my door, I noticed something rather alarming that I didn’t normally see when I’d drive past other traffic stops. There were two officers who both had their hands on their guns! As they came on either side of my car, I rolled my window down and said, “good morning officer”. Right off the bat, he informed me there had been multiple reports of a red vehicle driving erratically and suspiciously down the highway and wanted to know if it was me. To which I confirmed that it was not. The minutes of waiting seemed to turn into hours as I strained to hear what they were saying to each other outside. Yet, before I knew it, the officer said words I will never forget… “you match the description and profile, but you have the wrong car”. And they walked away. I was stunned, how could that make any sense? “I match the description?” “But my car doesn’t?”
While driving home, I tried to calm my nerves, but I had this pit in my stomach. I simply couldn’t stop wondering what about me matched the description. Was it my turquoise halter top? Or perhaps my glasses and pink nail polish? I hate to make assumptions but there was/is only one other characteristic about me that is obvious upon the first meeting which is my skin color. I’m Black. To this day, I wonder what would have come from the situation if I had “matched the description.” I want to set the record straight and say that I don’t believe all cops are bad, but as the news and media would show there are a lot of bad apples.
Reflecting on the incident it makes me wonder if the killing of unarmed Black people ever stop? Or maybe racial profiling will continue as long as we exist. Maybe 2022 will be the year things change, or perhaps I will have to spark up the conversation myself. Regardless, I know that the fear I feel is very much there and it’s something that is far too common with my community.
Signed sincerely, by an innocent Black woman who wants to live.
Savannah Thomas is a young Black woman who was born and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Having written for over two years, she is passionate about sharing her stories and experiences with racism and is a proud advocate for the Black community.