Police attacked me for stealing a car. It was my own.
Lawrence Crosby is a PhD graduate in
I was face down on the pavement. One police officer was kneeing me in the back,
while others pulled or punched. They paid no attention to my screams identifying
myself as an engineering PhD student at Northwestern University. They just kept
punching. One shouted, ďStop resisting!Ē
The record is on the
dash-cam footage: Itís nighttime. I
step out of my car, bewildered at being pulled over and surrounded by police
vehicles in the college town Iíve lived in for years. I hold my hands up high,
shocked to see several guns pointed at me. It turns out a fellow student had
called the police to report that someone was trying to steal a car. That someone
was me. The car was my
own. I had a key.
ďI donít know if Iím, like, racial profiling,Ē the woman had told the 911
dispatcher. To her and to the police, I was a black man in a hoodie. After the
cops arrived, after they tackled me, and after they determined that the car was,
indeed, my own, they charged me anyway.
Resisting arrest, they said. One cop joked to another that I ďshould feel luckyĒ
he didnít shoot me.
I donít feel lucky. Every time I see the video from that October 2015 encounter,
I experience fear, anger and terror. Fear that the color of my skin will make me
out to be a criminal when I have broken no laws. Anger at the blatant disregard
for human life and rights that the Constitution is supposed to guarantee to all
citizens. Terror to have come ó perhaps ó within seconds of being shot by people
sworn to serve and protect.
Amadou Diallo , Timothy
Russell and Malissa Williams , Philando
Castile . Their stories ó like many
others ó are all too familiar. They all suffered gross overreactions by officers
of the peace. Unfortunately, you will never hear their side of the stories, as
they didnít get the chance to speak before being shot to death. But you can hear
My experience happened in Evanston, Ill., a
college town that thinks of itself as progressive and forward-thinking. If such
rough treatment can happen here, where the police department has hired outside trainers to
give lessons on racial sensitivity, and if it can happen to me, with my
education and resources, it can happen anywhere.
My life is no more valuable than any of the people I mentioned above. Not at
all. But this shouldnít happen to anyone. I was minding my own business and
driving my own car, my accuser was aware of her racial preconceptions, and the
police should have known better. And still I ended up face down for a crime I
didnít commit, fearing for my life.
Now I must face consequences that are not of my own making. Thereís an arrest on
my record, even though a Cook County judge found me not guilty once he heard the
evidence. Thereís news coverage and the dash-cam video on the Internet,
available for any future employer or colleague who might choose to question me
or my motives.
This isnít the story that I expected to be telling at this point in my life,
having just received my doctorate from one of the top schools in the country.
The bigger story of my life is growing up without knowing my father, losing my
mother to illness when I was 8 and becoming a ward of the state.
Many people ó black and white ó stepped up to serve as mother, father, sister
and brother to me. I persisted. The day after my foster mother kicked me out
because I refused to join the National Guard, I applied to Stanford University
and got in. After four years, I graduated with a bachelorís degree in
Iíve done everything in my power to defy the odds. Yet I feel as though Iím
forever going to have to explain myself. As for the arresting officers, are they
doing any explaining? Will they have to answer for the rest of their lives for
their decision to wrestle me to the ground, pummel me and charge me with a
A fellow studentís impulsive action and her hasty decision to call the police
have put all of my hard work in jeopardy. The arrest, the charges and the trial
ó a scarlet letter to go with the dark brown skin that I will wear for the rest
of my life.