Charles Blow on Skip Gates


If I had to guess, based on the reaction I saw and read over the last day and a half, I’d say roughly 0% of the white male pundits bloviating on the arrest of Skip Gates and the President’s subsequent comments have ever been hassled by a cop for absolutely no reason, which means that they have approximately 0% in common with me. Not that I’m constantly being hassled–I’ve learned to pass as respectable over the years–but I’ve had enough run-ins with police (including some college friends who were part-time cops and who still have the job) to know that a certain percentage of them get off on the power more than anyone with a gun and a license to bust heads ought to.

Charles Blow, in today’s NY Times,, uses two stories of his own to shed some light on the subject in a very powerful way. Here’s part of the first.

Andre insisted on knowing why we had been stopped. The officer gave a reason. It wasn’t true. Then he said something I will never forget: that if he wanted to, he could make us lie down in the middle of the road and shoot us in the back of the head and no one would say anything about it. Then he walked to his car and drove away.

He had raised the specter of executing us. He wanted to impress upon us his power and our worth, or lack thereof. We were shocked, afraid, humiliated and furious. We were the good guys — dean’s list students with academic scholarships. I was the freshman class president. This wasn’t supposed to happen to us.

That story took place twenty years ago in rural Louisiana, so it would be easy to dismiss as a relic of a bygone time and place. But Blow tells another story from a couple of years ago as well. It’s not nearly as graphic or potentially violent, but it underscores the different relationship with the police for many people of color even today. It’s well worth reading.

Brian Spears is Senior Poetry Editor of The Rumpus and the author of A Witness in Exile (Louisiana Literature Press, 2011). His poem “Upon Reading That Andromeda Will One Day Devour Triangulum and Come For Us Next” was featured in Season 9 of Motion Poems. More from this author →