My co-workers are minorities. They are adults in their late 20s. Kalen is half white half black. Matt is Spanish-American and Traven is African-American. I am Asian. After leaving work, we agreed to get dinner together to celebrate the holiday season. It took some time for us to choose a restaurant since our budget was limited. To warm up our bodies in a cold night, we took a shot of Rum before leaving the building. It was our first hangout together after having worked with each other for three months. Matt suggested that we should go eat Peri-Peri Chicken since it was delicious, and the price was reasonable.
We walked out to the parking lot towards the only car that was parked in the big empty space. The car was 1995 Toyota Camry XLE 2-door sedan. It was an old car which belonged to Kalen. Kalen appeared to be the coolest guy among the four of us since he owned a car; even though it was old. Matt, Traven and I depend on public transportation or Uber to get around. We are too broke to own a car.
The first thing we did after we got into the car was to make sure that was buckled seat belts. They said that if we were stopped by the polices, it would be less complicated to deal with them. I was like “have anyone of you been stopped by the police” All of them replied “Many times.” “why?” I said. “Because we are minority.” Said Matt.
I have heard stories between the police and minorities, especially “black people” in America. I have heard that police officers would give them a hard time and sometimes even worse. But, I have never experienced it myself. I thought that tonight might be the night that I would experience real life scenario with police because I was in a car with three minority young men.
So, on our way to the restaurant my co-workers told me about their stories with cops. Matt told me that one time he was driving home with his mom and he got pulled over by two policemen. He remembered some important “safety techniques” that one of his friends told him to act and to speak to the police. So, he used them and got a good result.
After the officers pulled him over, he stopped the car, slid the windows down, and made sure to put his two hands on the steering wheel. He answered the questions with good manners and taking care to be polite and adding, “Yes, officer. No, Sir. Thank officer.” He also tried to smile and nodded his head “yes” and shook his head “no” as they questioned him. I was like “wait! whaaaat… why do you have to act that way?” Matt simply explained that he did not want to disappoint them because police could get rough with a minority like him if he did not behave well. Therefore, he had to behave in a certain way even though he did not do anything wrong. Matt ended his story and Kalen started to tell his while steering the car.
Kalen recalled that one day he was driving home from school and he was stopped by two police officers. It was a round 8pm and he was exhausted from a long day at work and at school. His car was filled with clothes, books, and some water bottles, which simply was not clean at all. It was the same old car in which he was driving us to the restaurant that night. The policemen stopped him and asked him simple questions about his driving license, his ID, and of course they wanted to know if the car was his. He gave them the answers they needed, but they still would not let him go. They asked him to get out from the car because they needed to check it.
As a 21-year-old African-American, a young cool kid, who was exhausted and hungry from a long day of surviving school and making a living, Kalen refused to get out from his car and asked the police officers why they needed to search his car when he told them that he was driving home straight from school. At this point, Kalen did not use the “safety techniques” of acting and speaking like Matt did.
The police officers did not bother to talk much. Instead, they radioed two other cars to come. Several minutes passed by, Kalen found himself in his car surrounded by 6 police men. He began to freak out and walked out from his car. The polices asked him to put his hands in the air and cuffed him while they searched his car. For what? Kalen had no idea. After the cops had searched and found nothing illegal in the car, they let him go. “Man! I was so scared. I shut up and prayed to God that they won’t hurt me,” said Kalen while laughing at the same time.
The moral of the stories was that I learned and experienced different things from my social life in America. Hanging out with my co-workers, who were minorities, and came from immigrant families, I heard different stories. My co-workers had to worry about being stopped by police even though they had not done anything wrong. The conversations we had were mostly about part-time jobs, saving money for school, working extra hours on school breaks, spending three hours a day on public transportation commuting to work or to school, and saving money for certain things that they needed. We had to check our phones for the latest buses and metro that we could catch to get home because using Uber home on a weekend night would cost us a fortune.
When I hung out with my “white friends,” most of our conversations were similar, including sports, politics, our favorite celebrities, their previous trips or upcoming trips and of course their student loans. But, I had never been told about their stories of being stopped by polices, handcuffed, or being worried of being pulled by any cop.
I know that America has always had a racial problem in its society. It just felt different when I heard from my friends’ stories like the ones I read in the news. I learned that people I hung out with did not come from the same family backgrounds. They had different ethnic histories that have affected their lives and their families. I learned that some police officers treated people differently based in their race and some of those people were my friends, my co-workers, and my classmates. The night with my co-workers was filled with food, laugh, and rumor. At the end of the night, I took Uber-pool home, Matt and Traven caught a bus and subway which took them another hour to get home. Kalen was the only cool guy who drove himself home.