You would think, given national events, that local police would be especially sensitive about stopping young black men on dubious grounds. But you would be wrong.
“I get pulled over all the time going into Amherst, Tonawanda, Cheektowaga,” said a 22-year-old Buffalo driver, who got so nervous when being staked out by Amherst police April 3 that he called 911. Three times.
In the context of deaths in Baltimore, Staten Island and Ferguson, Mo., walking away with just a questionable ticket might seem like a victory. But he decided to go public because blacks shouldn’t have to live under a constant cloud.
“I don’t want somebody else having to deal with it,” he said, after having the temerity to photograph his pursuers.
It began when he left a friend’s house around 5 p.m. – with his hoodie up – and noticed a passing patrol car turn around and get behind him. Hoping to avoid what would come next, he parked and walked back to the home. Two more patrol cars quickly arrived, then left – or so he thought, until he saw them parked on cross streets near Allenhurst Road.
“They were stalking me,” he said. “They had positioned themselves to stop me in any direction I go. … I felt trapped. … That’s why I called 911.”
He wanted a supervisor sent but was told to just obey any orders. He called again and said that, as a black man in a sweatshirt and hood, he feared for his life. This dispatcher insisted that police wouldn’t stop him for no reason.
But they did, just past Kenmore Avenue inside the Buffalo city line. He dialed 911 again but was told to get off the phone and hand over his license. He heard them discussing what to do after discovering he had a clean record.
He said he initially got two different explanations: No seat belt and a rolling stop – both implausible because he knew he was being followed. Finally, they ticketed him for a loud muffler.
He has one word for the ordeal: profiling. Amherst police dismiss that.
“It’s been my experience that black people and white people don’t like getting tickets,” said Assistant Police Chief Charles Cohen, who said the young man piqued officers’ curiosity by returning to the home after seeing them. But given recent events – and a federal report on Ferguson’s misuse of traffic stops to ensnare African-Americans – a black man trying to avoid contact with police could be considered a perfectly rational response.
So is wanting to feel free to move about without being a suspect because you’re young, black and wear a hood. He doesn’t want his name used because he doesn’t want to draw more attention, but he wants the story out because change “has got to start somewhere.”
He and a relative – who works for the Sheriff’s Office – tried to file a complaint but left after getting nowhere. He called federal officials, but to no avail. Ironically, he is pursuing a criminal-justice degree at Erie Community College. Does this cause him to have second thoughts?
“It does. But me being a young black man, it makes me want to get into it more now,” he said, because he doesn’t want others to summon help and have only white officers show up.
Or maybe he can change things from the inside so such calls aren’t even necessary. After all, when national events prompt you to dial 911 because of the police, not the crooks, something is systemically wrong.