Police Encounters #5: No Words Spoken
For Police Encounters #5 I will focus on a time when I was about 22 years of age. During that time (1993) I was living in East Oakland on 55th and Scoville. This particular encounter was quick, but remains perplexing and most haunting. During this season of life I lifted weights and worked out five times a week, Monday-Friday. Diego’s Power Alley Gym was a classic, popular, and intimate East Oakland spot, so that is where I worked out while I lived in the East. Additionally the owner is a pillar of Oakland and was simply a good influence to be around. The gym was on Foothill, just a few blocks from my house and it was easy for me to get there on foot. I could simply put on my workout gear, walk to the gym, hit the iron, and walk home.
On this particular sunny East Oakland day I walked to the gym wearing gray sweats, white t-shirt, dark blue sweatshirt, carrying a white towel. While at the gym I had a solid workout and after about one hour and forty-five minutes I left the gym to walk home and prepare for work. I worked for UPS. Well, I was walking home, catching my breath from my workout, wiping away sweat with my white towel. I took the same route to the gym every time, and at this time I was walking down 57th Ave. The only item in my pocket was my house key.
While walking down 57th I made it to the middle of the block and an Oakland Police Officer drove past and slammed his patrol car in park and hopped out. No siren, no flashing lights. I still recall the sound of his gear-shift slamming into park. He jumped out of his car swiftly and at that point things got weird and the encounter continues to haunt me.
As the officer exited his vehicle in the middle of the street, I kept my eye on him covertly just to see what he was doing. I knew I had done nothing wrong so I kept walking, but remaining aware of his actions. Suddenly the African American solo officer started walking towards me at a brisk pace. Again, here is where it gets psychologically sick. As I saw him moving towards me I quickly stopped, turned, and threw my hands in the air. The officer then approached me on the sidewalk, kicked my left leg to spread them, searched me from shoulders the ankles, found nothing, returned to his vehicle and sped away. He never said one word and I never said one word. I then continued to walk home as if that was a normal or routine occurrence.
As I reflected upon that encounter years later it dawned on me how ill and dehumanizing of an experience that was. Why was I so accustomed to that drill? Why was it okay for that officer to approach and search me without uttering one word? Why did I allow him to search me without saying a word? Why did I continue the rest of my day like all was normal?
I had never seen that officer before and I would imagine he had never seen me, but to this very day I do not know why he searched me. What if out of fear (not guilt) I would have ran? The problem was, as a young Black male, I was so accustomed to being searched by police for no reason on the streets of Fillmoe and Oakland, I allowed myself to be reduced to a person without rights. Additionally, the officer believed my worth was so low he could approach and search me without voicing a stated reason. Regardless, all of my unwarranted police encounters (and I have many more) and dehumanizing experiences continue to shape my schematic psyche.
I had no idea that multiple years later on November 8, 2010, in the same area, the unarmed brother of my wife (Tonya DJ Saheli) would run out of fear and be fatally shot seven times by two Oakland Police Officers…
Dr. Ammar Saheli