• Larry Spaeth

Two Small Doses of Black Reality

Black Lives Matter protests have been active for many weeks now and the chant “I can't Breathe” has been an emotional one for me. The names called out who have been killed by police violence is another with echoes of my childhood attending mass and participating in the Litany of the Saints.

I keep hearing people talking “How about instead of disbanding police you quit breaking the law?”

The protests are not about breaking the law but of being oppressed by the very police they are supposed to rely on to keep the peace.

BLM isn't asking to disband police they want to transform the police structure and how it is implemented within their community.

As for the other error in the above statement, most white people have no idea what it means to be “driving while black”. While I have had two experiences in my life which gave me a realistic understanding of what that might be like and yet I do not believe it is anywhere close to a black person's experience.

The first episode occurred when I moved my family back to the Schaumburg, Illinois area in 1981 to start a small business. I was driving an old beater of a car which I had picked up from a cook at a Swenson's Ice Cream Parlor for $50.00. It was an old Ford LTD four-door sedan. My daughter was in the back seat and my wife was in the front passenger seat. We were driving South on Roselle Rd. in a shopping area with plenty of lighting.

I noticed a police car behind me with lights on, so I pulled over to the right expecting them to pass me but they pulled in behind instead. It was early evening dark but not yet complete darkness. I pulled my wallet out to access my license as he approached and rolled down my window. In the meantime, another car pulled behind the other squad and he came around on the passenger side with his gun drawn and pointed at my daughter Heather in the back seat who was about seven (7) years old at the time.

The questions were polite but somewhat puzzling about where we were going and where did we come from and the officer then asked where my license applied for sticker was and I pointed it out posted on the passenger side of the windshield. He said that they stopped us because we didn't have it posted in the right location.

After he left I checked the instructions on the sticker and it was posted in the correct location.

Even if it had been posted in the wrong location why had the officer “backing him up” have their gun drawn and pointed at my daughter? Clearly, that was not the reason.

The car was clearly a poor man's car and in that area which would be driven by a minority in most cases.

When the officer got to my window and saw I was white he didn't ask me to get out of the car. He didn't throw me on the ground cuff me or kneel on my neck. He simply found a way to say why I was stopped and sent me on my way. I do not think that is how it would have gone down if I had been black.

The second instance occurred when I was in Real Estate and driving from Hanover Park where I lived to the office I worked out of in Bartlett, Il. It was a bright and sunny Sunday morning and my wife was in the car with my children in the back seat.

I happened to be driving my younger brother's car at the time as he borrowed mine to help him move.

I noticed a police car following behind me and I expected to get pulled over but the officer stayed back and did not approach. I got out at my Real Estate Office and my wife continued to proceed to the church. Just after leaving the Real Estate Office parking lot my wife was pulled over and surrounded by five suburban police vehicles. They kept asking my wife about the location of my brother. Again, they had their weapons drawn and pointed at my children and my wife. She had to get out of the car and open the hatchback portion of the car to retrieve her purse and the “popping” noise made the officers jump back. She retrieved her purse to show her identification to the officers who after detaining her for about a half-hour decided to let her proceed on her way to church.

Evidently, my brother had been in a bar fight at some point and had missed a court date in which they were attempting to execute an arrest warrant on him.

You must understand this was a bright and sunny Sunday morning. What would have happened if this had occurred at night or late evening? Why were the weapons drawn and pointed towards the vehicle with children clearly in the back seat?

The fact that there was no “incident” which resulted in injury or death does not excuse the tactics that were followed in either instance.

In both cases, the vehicle probably had the biggest influence on the tactics the officers chose to use in approaching us. It is clearly a policy of the suburban police in my experience to disproportionately stop cars which are most often driven by poor people and people of color. The officers' approach is clearly based on fear of the occupant based on their assumed color.

I read a book when I was younger entitled “Black Like Me” in which the author, a white man, had injections that darkened his skin and he went about his life doing and acting himself. It was the reaction to him because of his skin color which shocked and transformed the author to raise his voice and write the book trying to demonstrate to white folk the different skin color makes. How it triggers racist responses and behavior.

An attempt to walk in the other person's shoes to speak and to gain a real understanding of their perspective.

I have tried to live my life that way and I feel for white America it is time that we all try and do the same.

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