JustUs: ‘How Fair-skinned is the U.S. Version of Fair?’
One man’s reflection on how fairness, freedom and not going to jail is experienced as a luxury for Black Americans and surviving an interaction with the police, a privilege.
Have you ever worked, and worked, and worked, and when you get out of work you’re just drained? I mean DRAINED. And you can’t stand to even look at whatever it is you’ve been working on — not for one more second! For me, that was refrigerators, stoves and compressors — because I worked at Sears’ package pickup.
Well, one night I was leaving work and heading to the parking lot, totally exhausted, when the phone rang.
Do you have a friend that doesn’t have a car? I mean, just period. Not, ‘their car is in the shop’, but they actually have to manage work, life, getting kids to school without a car.
So when you see their name pop up on your phone, you know what they need, but you’re drained and don’t feel like doing anything but going to bed? Skip the refrigerator, the stove, the cooking, the eating, do not pass go — just go to bed. And the real question is, would you answer the phone? Would you take your boy home? Would you?
Well — spoiler alert — I answered the call.
So here I am driving one of my boys home — it shouldn’t be too bad; he lives maybe 10 minutes away from his job, not even that. I’m driving, dog tired. And he’s dog tired too because that’s the jobs we have. And two or three minutes down the road, he’s asleep, and a police car pulls out behind me.
Have you experienced that moment, when it is not until a police car pulls out behind you that you realize the speed limit just dropped? (I know I’m asking a lot of questions for an article, but I’m going somewhere with this.) Well, that’s what happened to me. I looked down at the speedometer: I was going 42 on a road that just dropped from 40 to 30 miles per hour.
So what would you be thinking at that point? Would you be thinking: “Oh, darn it. I hope I just get off with a warning. I hope they don’t actually give me a ticket.”
Or are you thinking, “Just give me a ticket. Don’t take me to jail. And please may I end up alive at the end of this night.”
Because when that police car pulls out, I could barely breathe. My hands were clutching the steering wheel. Images of my cousin being kicked over and over by two officers were flashing in rhythm with those swirling red lights. And with the sound of the sirens, I was brought back to my last experience with the police — where I went to jail for a DWI on New Years Eve, even though I wasn’t even driving. I was parked and asleep in my car!
I tried to keep breathing as I rolled down the window and the officer asked, “Are you aware you were going 42 in a 30?”
They took my license and eventually came back, but now there were two more police cars pulling up.
“It smells like marijuana in your car. Would you step out so we can do a search?”
Now, at that moment, would you have said: “No, I’m exercising my 4th Amendment Rights. You cannot search my car.”
Or, how many of you know I don’t really have that right because the statistics are bad? Two black men in a car; 6 white police officers; Richardson, Texas. It’s not really a question. Some white officer says he smells marijuana — there is probable cause and, probably, they will search your car the easy way or the hard way — and the hard way is not good. It is not good.
I step out. They found no bag. But they scraped up enough in the back seat, trunk and floor to gather a gram of weed — the smallest amount a man can buy — $15 worth. They put me and my boy, back-to-back, in handcuffs. It was overkill for a gram. Overkill. And my homeboy was just terrified at that point because he knew he had a warrant. He knew he was going to jail. And I knew I would be the one who was going to have to figure out how to get the money to bail him out.
As they put us in handcuffs, one of the officers approached, shooting a video of us getting arrested on his phone. He was laughing, saying something stupid like, “Look I got the bad guys.” And then he started taking pictures of us like we were some trophy animals he caught.
My homeboy starts cussing… “What the fuck? This isn’t right. Why are you taking pictures of us? For what? What are you doing?” And the cop just put his phone away and walked off.
It could have been a warning: “Remember young man the speed limit drops over by Montgomery Street.”
It could have been just a ticket: “I’m sorry, I have to give you a ticket. It is easy to miss those signs.”
But no, it becomes a full-on search to find something criminal they can get me on.
When you get stopped for a small speeding ticket do they search your car? Do they humiliate you? Mock you? Take personal photos and videos of your struggle for home entertainment? Is it fair that one person has the expectation of a slap on the wrist or a speeding ticket, at worst, and the other of being sent to jail, and even being beaten or killed?
Or is your version of fair when two people walk into the police station that they get the same respect? Or the same charge for the same crime — two joints worth of weed. Is it fair that one man may be given the opportunity to redeem himself? That one is seen as young, white and full of potential — “an excellent candidate for Restorative Justice, don’t you think?” And the other person gets a permanent label on their record that makes it almost impossible for them to make it past the label? How fair-skinned is the U.S. version of fair?
And, I have another question for you. What is luxury?: A nice car. Restaurant meal. A beach vacation. All those things are luxuries, right? You wouldn’t consider getting pulled over for a speeding ticket and not going to jail to be a luxury? Or receiving a punishment that fits the crime — that’s not a luxury either, is it? Or surviving an interaction with law enforcement — that shouldn’t be a luxury, right?
Fair is fair. Liberty and justice for all. But who was that designed for? When the Constitution was written, my ancestors were slaves. So, who is the “all” exactly? And have they clarified if Black people are actually included yet? Tell me, are we included yet?
As a black man living in the U.S. it feels like a privilege if you’re not in jail. Freedom is a luxury. Fairness is a luxury.
Brian (CB) Lynch is a Motus Theater JustUs Monologist. He is the owner of ICU Visuals, Niche Media works, and the League of extraordinary producers. Brian produces and films the upcoming YouTube series “Cypher Saturday” and has also had his production on national television. His music has been featured on Oxygen’s “Preachers of LA”, “Preachers of Atlanta”, and “Preachers of Detroit”; BET’s “Next Big Thing”: Netflix “On My Block” Season 2 and VH1’s “Love and Listings”. His goal is to bring all the positive aspects of Hollywood to Colorado.
COMING 2022: This monologue will be featured in season two of our Motus Monologues and Shoebox Stories podcasts. Listen to Season 1: UndocuAmerica by following the links below.
You can listen to more autobiographical monologues like this on the Motus Monologues podcast, here.
Or, hear prominent Americans step into the shoes of our undocumented neighbors, on the Shoebox Stories podcast, here.
This autobiographical story was written by Brian Lynch in collaboration with Kirsten Wilson as part of Motus Theater’s JustUs Project: Stories From the Frontlines of the Criminal Justice System.