Yes, I had seen it, and I was as enraged as every other African-American in America. This has been a season of outrage for black folks in what seems to be the waging of war against our sons, brothers and husbands. My anger had been simmering for months and boiled over when George Zimmermann was found innocent. But anger is only useful when put into action, and my daughter’s rage, so deeply personal, seemed unhealthy.
And then I remembered what she had been through.
Twenty-one years ago, the police raided our home. My daughter was 19-years-old, and we had given her permission to have a party while we had dinner with friends across town. We knew her friends-- a nice bunch of college students and kids she’d known since high school. We live in a predominately white neighborhood in a town known for its liberal politics so, naively, we didn’t anticipate any problem. To this day, we don’t know if somebody called the police or if the cops just saw a bunch of black kids going into a house in a white neighborhood or if they simply had nothing better to do with their time on a Saturday night than crack some heads.
They pushed their way into our home behind incoming guests. My daughter faced them down at the door. In a moment I still consider to be unbelievably courageous, she calmly confronted them, spoke truth to armed power, explained that the police did not have the right to enter our home without a warrant. I guess being confronted by a 115-pound girl with truth on her side enraged them. They shoved her out of the way. She fell on the floor, and one of the boys she knew stepped to them.
There were many siblings at the party that night, and the kids later said the cops manhandled the girls—their sisters in blood as well as spirit. That was when someone began to recite—foolishly, in retrospect—the NWA lyrics that were popular at the time: Fuck the Police! Fuck the Police! Fuck the Police! All hell broke loose. They beat-up some kids, arrested others—including my daughter—and one parent, a renowned poet/activist, whose sons were in attendance and knew first-hand the brutality of cops. He’d come the moment he was called and had given them a fiery piece of his mind.
We were contacted by a friend on the police force and came back to a house in chaos—blood on the carpet in our basement, furniture turned upside down. If they were looking for drugs they certainly didn’t find any. There wasn’t even liquor in the house. I went to the courthouse and bailed everybody out. Later all charges were dropped. We were lucky. They didn’t shoot anybody. We had angels on our shoulders that night.
For weeks after, I was afraid the police would come back to do us harm. Some nights I spread talcum powder on the floor so I would know if they came in to plant drugs. To this day, I don’t trust cops. I clench my steering wheel tightly when I drive pass them. I curse them out underneath my breath.
I can’t imagine what the mother of Michal Brown must be feeling. I’m reasonably sure I would not handle what she has gone through with such grace. I’d want immediate revenge. I wouldn’t have the wisdom to call for peace. My anger would be uncontrollable, and I would unleash it on anyone who crossed my path.
A few years ago, a delivery man with a worn face and dead eyes, delivered a pizza to our house. He was startled when I opened the door.
“I’ve been here before. I know this place,” he said as he looked around our house. He went on to explain that he had been one of the officers who had raided our house decades earlier. He apologized and asked if the kids were alright. I was touched by his sincerity and the regret I saw in his eyes. I accepted his apology and told him that everyone was fine. That was the truth. It had been a frightening and hurtful experience for the kids who were there, but it had not been a mortal blow. Nearly all had finished college, some had gone on to graduate school to become lawyers or doctors. Many were married and had kids of their own. But the experience had politicized them in a way that nothing else could, and they were wiser and tougher for it. They had achieved and thrived despite the terror of that night. They were fine. Better than him. In every way possible.
You reap what you sow in this life. I have no doubt that the men who came into our home like outlaws that night will get what they deserve in the end. Karma does have a way of catching up with you sooner or later.