On Wednesday February 19th 2020 I went to Enterprise to rent a car after being invited by one of my law school classmates who now serves in the administration at Wiley College to speak at an event being hosted by my fraternity – Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. The title of the event was the “State of the Young Black Male.” I found this subject incredibly intriguing and was excited to be invited to Wiley College the home of the great debaters, a Historically Black College, and excited to be engaging in dialogue with young men and women regarding the subject.
As I prepared to rent the vehicle the Enterprise employee, a young black man, told me- “man let me go grab this receipt for you, cause they be tripping in Texas.” At first I didn’t think much of the receipt, but I did think heavily about what he said and I understood exactly what he meant. Road trips are never just road trips for black people. Sandra Bland was on her way to Prairie View – another Texas HBCU- when she was stopped and lost her life tragically after being unlawfully stopped and detained. Before he had even mentioned it, the thoughts of traveling from Mississippi through Louisiana to East Texas had certainly entered my mind. As a black person, that is quite possibly the longest 6 hour trip on Earth… and it has absolutely nothing to do with distance and everything to do with Time. Not time in the seconds and minutes sense, but time in the past, present, and future sense. These states have history with Black boys and Black girls.
The Enterprise employee and I checked the car from the glove compartment to the trunk… before I rented the vehicle. I know their policy is pretty much to make sure that anything someone might put in there can be attributed to the person because they check the car to make sure nothing is in there when you get it from them. An ominous feeling grew inside me about the trip and the possibilities that existed with simply renting a vehicle, being black, and traveling to Texas. An encounter with police somewhere along the way felt very possible if not inevitable. Before he left he said “oh let me go ahead and turn on the Steering Assist for you.” He pushed the button on the far left. I have never used steering assist in my life… but if he thought it would be useful in ensuring my safety on my road trip, especially with the rain the way it had been In Mississippi the last few weeks, I certainly wasn’t going to object to it.
Because of that intuitive feeling- I didn’t put anything in the trunk of the vehicle at all. I only took the suit I was wearing, a backpack with a change of clothes, an extra pair of shoes, a sponge brush for my hair, and an iPhone cord. I was only planning to be in Marshall, Texas for the night. I was going to head back towards New Orleans on the way back. I rented the car for Wednesday to Saturday so that I could have it for Thursday’s event, drive it to New Orleans on the way back on Friday and turn it in on Saturday. That was the plan.
Thursday’s Event at Wiley College Was Amazing. I truly enjoyed the atmosphere, the students, the questions I was asked, the panel that I shared the stage with. The very first question that we were asked during the “State of the Young Black Male” discussion was, “Are black men an endangered species?” My response was, “I’ll try to answer this by highlighting the feeling of duality and double consciousness we live with in America that WEB DuBois once spoke of. Black men are an endangered species in America if we place our faith in America and the illusory American Dream. But we will not be endangered internally if we place our faith in each other as community. Black people can rise together and thrive together so long as our hope is directed intrinsically. Black men are the Lions of America… and because of this we often die at America’s hands unable to tell our stories and with America telling the story of “It was either me or the lion.” Lions rarely live to tell their side of the story. ”
I stayed and mingled with the students. I exchanged information with the young people and talked to them about internship opportunities with Black With No Chaser. Eventually, I went to the room and got some rest. I knew I was going to be back on the road Friday morning and so I needed to get some sleep before another 6 hour drive just one day after my first 6 hour drive.
That morning, I placed my things in my car–in the interior. I am very conscious of the fact that I am in East Texas & traveling to Louisiana. East Texas Killed James Byrd, Jr. Louisiana Killed Alton Sterling. Some people may think that’s a strange way to think of the Areas you are driving through- I’d say it’s my way of trying to not be an endangered species. I checked my Instagram. Answered a few questions in my Instagram story. Got some gas. Called my mom and told her I was heading to New Orleans and jumped on the road.
I drove for about an hour to an hour and a half before taking interstate 20 to interstate 49- 49 was going to take me to New Orleans. The impact of the rainfall of the last few weeks was quite visible as the water in the marshland to the left and right of me was very high by comparison to the trees in the water. I was extremely cautious because these roads didn’t have barriers on them. I had never driven interstate 49 before and this was my first time going this way. I was traveling about 60-65 mph because of the conditions. At some point I noticed a white SUV on the left side of the road near what could be considered a blind spot. It was Louisiana State Police. I looked at my dash to check my speed as I approached, still driving in the right lane and still traveling at about 65. I certainly was not speeding and was not even in the fast lane. In spite of this, I had a feeling he was going to get behind me. Because of this, I decided to set my cruise control to ensure I’d be fine. I pushed the button to turn on cruise control and the automatic steering also came on. It felt strange at first.
Within a few seconds of setting the cruise control – the same white suv, the one I had seen earlier is behind me. It has been for a few minutes. It eventually flashes blue lights. I take a deep breath. My seatbelt is already on. I definitely am driving 60 or 65. I get my phone and go to Facebook. I contemplate going live- to ensure that people are able to know that I was being my normal self on that day. That someone stopped me somewhere I was unfamiliar with, and that this is what really happened to me- if something did happen. The Highway is narrow so I drive briefly with my right signal on slowing down and pulling over but attempting to find somewhere not so close to the shoulder of the highway. I do this so that I can move into the grass slightly so that the officer will have room to approach the vehicle without potentially being sideswiped by oncoming traffic. I’m doing this to be considerate because I’ve seen officers get hit by vehicles while helping change tires or even pulling someone over.
I stop the car. I roll down my window. Facebook is ready. A tall slim brown skinned black man steps out of the SUV & stands near his door, he has one hand near his waistline where his gun is and the other hand on a microphone. He tells me to step out of the vehicle. Unsure of what he said to me, I say, “Excuse me sir what did you say?” I place my hands slowly outside the windows and ask again. I don’t want to get out of the vehicle if that’s not what I’ve been directed to do. I don’t want to be shot for stepping out of the car. He says again to step out of the car. At this point I am now aware that no matter what is said next, this is not a routine traffic stop. I leave the phone and Facebook in the car understanding that stepping out of the vehicle and attempting to record the incident with the phone in my hand could definitely lead to my death.
The next 2 videos detail my experiences for the next hour of that encounter:
On Friday Feb. 21, 2020 I got Stopped, Profiled, detained for an hour, searched by dogs & had my rental car searched by Louisiana State Police. I’m alive but I know that I am not ok. I haven’t slept well & think about it daily. The frustration for me stems from who else they may do this to and from who else they have already done this to. The second video I share outlines just how bad of a situation this had the potential of becoming when the officers try to say that something that they see in the trunk of the car (an otherwise completely empty trunk) underneath the trunk cover is “cocaine.”
They “reassure me” that they don’t believe that it’s in any way associated with me. I have never seen cocaine in my life. I have no idea what it actually was but to me it looked like white paint. It was tiny like the size of sesame seed or crumb and I don’t believe that is what it was. I also don’t believe the dog smelled that. The man was hitting where he wanted the dog to go… and the dog did what he wanted it to do. I believe he was posturing because he had a body camera on and knew he had made a very fucked up decision to hold me there for an hour and needed to be able to justify it.
Louisiana ain’t heard the last of me. I know I’m not the only one they have done this way… but I’m damn sure going to fight to make sure they are accountable to those who may come after me. They stopped the right one. This fight is much bigger than me and it always has been… this fight is about the state of Black boys and girls in America and refusing to be an endangered species.