This personal narrative is one among many persons with first-hand accounts of being wrongfully accused, stopped, or physically threatened in a casual manner by police. It would take the media endless time to cover every story, but we encourage you to share yours for Hands Up Submit. This story was edited for clarity.
Submitted by Evan Wheeler of Philadelphia, PA
For as long as most of us can remember, we have read or heard about people’s experiences with police officers. These cases can go either way based on the officer’s character, history of discrepancies, and the officer’s ability to have a great hunch. As I hope all of you know, the ugly question has once again protruded its head out of the shadows with the recent incidents of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Kajieme Powell. Beyond these specific cases, encounters happen every day, all around the country. Today we take a look into my personal encounters. My name is Evan Wheeler, I am a 22 year old African American college student that grew up in Camden, New Jersey, an urban crime-plagued area.
My first encounter occurred at 16 years old, after neighborhood a basketball game, in December of 2008. It was my sophomore year and I was on the football and wrestling team, but the game was unrelated. I recall being in a 2002 silver Ford Taurus with my two older cousins. It was around 8 pm and we were driving down Mt. Ephraim Ave in the Polock section of the city. Out of nowhere we were pulled over by four police vehicles and were instructed to exit our vehicle with our hands in the air, so we obliged. We then step out of the vehicle to officers with their firearms drawn, followed by the remark “you’re a big boy, I bet you would need more than one.” We were then taken downtown and questioned and then told it was mistaken identity.
The second encounter, which is more recent, happened when I was 21 years old and working in a nearby suburban area, as a marketer. The second encounter happened fast and pretty much random to my knowing, due to the fact that I was working in the area for almost a week when this occurred. A police vehicle pulled up with the lights on and a female officer exited her vehicle with her hand on her firearm, telling me to stop moving and put my hands up. The officer then proceeded to ask my name, birthday, social security number, where I’m from, and my current address. After I revealed my address she says, “what are you doing out here casing houses?” I replied, that I was selling magazine subscriptions and showed the officer. Then I asked “what warranted the stop?” And she replied that the police department received a phone call about a mysterious character in the neighborhood.
As I was retained for 30 minutes and later became annoyed, I voiced an opinion and said, “can you just let me go as I have no record and keep coming up as no warrants or tickets?” I suppose my talking aggravated her because she replied that if she saw me in the area again I would be arrested on site, and if I say another word I would spend the weekend in jail. Shortly after the encounter I spoke with my boss and we went to the local police station and asked if they received any complaints. The captain on duty went in the back and looked over the call log. He said, “no we didn’t receive any complaints.”
These two encounters in my life are just two of the many unheard stories of black males who have been stopped in everyday life. Not all stops are considered profiling and most stops are warranted. Do I consider myself to be a victim? No. Do I consider the stops warranted? No. What do you think? Please share your comments and stories below.